The studio as star: Teddington

By Richard Farmer

Weir(d) House, Teddington

Many film studios appear in films. Of these, some feature as film studios, such as when MGM-British was transformed into the home of Commonwealth Pictures in The Intimate Stranger (1956) or Denham’s similarly pseudonymised cameos in both Thursday’s Child (1943) or We’ll Smile Again (1942). More common, though, are cases where parts of studios are passed off as other kinds of building. Here, we might point to Beaconsfield’s appearance in 1954’s Orders are Orders, where the sound stage became an army camp gymnasium – which, ironically, is then used in the film as a temporary studio by Ed Waggermeyer, an American producer played with great gusto by Sid James – or Pinewood’s Heatherden Hall, which has appeared variously as SPECTRE headquarters in From Russia with Love (1963), the governor’s mansion in Carry On Up the Khyber (1968) and a stand-in for Buckingham Palace in Wombling Free (1977) as well as being cast according to type as a country house in Crackerjack and The Ware Case (both 1938).  

Teddington studios in The Galloping Major (1951)

Teddington studios, in west London, was also no stranger to the limelight – it became Rosedale studios in The Galloping Major (1951) – and parts of the studio and its grounds featured in numerous films. The studio was built in the grounds of Weir House, a late-Georgian, 40-room property on the banks of the Thames that after it became associated with film production was dubbed “Weird House” by some locals ‘in view if the somewhat unusual activities that seemed to go on there’ (Newman and Tasker: 5). In 1930, the house was transformed into a residential club aimed at ‘members of the cinematograph industry’ – its proximity to central London’s filmland as much a part of its appeal as its miniature golf course and badminton courts (Kinematograph Weekly [KW], 19 June 1930: 23). Exterior filming had taken place in the grounds at Weir House ‘from the earliest pioneer days,’ but the studio-proper was established in 1916 and frequently expanded and developed thereafter (Chibnall: 692). A devastating fire in October 1929 gutted the existing glass-house facility – panes falling from its glazed roof made it more difficult to fight the blaze – and necessitated extensive rebuilding. This would not be the last time that Teddington went up in flames or was otherwise damaged: there was another fire in 1935, and in July 1944 a V-1 rocket killed studio manager Doc Salomon and two other employees and destroyed parts of the site. 

Map of bomb damage at Teddington (l) and damage to carpenters’ shop (r)

Warner Brothers-First National, an American production and distribution company, took over the site in 1932 so that it might produce low-budget British films and so comply with its quota obligations. It laid out £100,000 improving and further modernising the studio in what one contemporary observer thought to be a sensitive manner: 

Did they dot the lawns with hideous outbuildings? They did not. […] Did they line the pleasant riverbank with concrete or build stone walls where before had been rough hedges of privet? They did not. They left the grounds as they were.

World Film Encyclopaedia: 392-3

Whilst this approach, and the employment of ‘skilled gardeners’ to maintain the grounds, might have provided ‘players [with] a pleasaunce wherein to walk in the cool of the evening when the day’s shooting is done’ (ibid.), it also stemmed from practical economics: having a well-manicured outdoor space immediately outside the sound-stage made filming certain types of bucolic exterior much easier and cheaper. 

Even before the WB-FN takeover, writers employed at the studio were encouraged to develop stories that could make use of the river and the weir that gave the house its name, and on occasion furniture from Weir House was incorporated into films made at Teddington (Leslie: 10; Newman and Tasker: 6). The weir can be seen in both Cocaine/While London Sleeps (1922) and Crime Unlimited (1935) and the house, which was demolished in March 1937, also features in the latter of these films. The weir and the river made for appealing backdrops but could be noisy, often interfering with the microphone during early sound film exteriors shot at Teddington (Leslie: 10).

Weir House in Crime Unlimited (1935) – composite image

Given that economy was very often the watchword of producers working at Teddington (Chibnall: 717), as it was for most filmmakers in Britain tasked with churning out low-budget ‘quota quickies’, it comes as no surprise that the exteriors of many studio buildings regularly featured in films produced there. They were in close proximity to equipment stores, did not require complex logistical processes to access, while also allowing filming to continue inside the sound stage should the weather not permit outdoor shooting. What is interesting, however, is that some of the buildings at Teddington were designed specifically so as to permit on-site exterior photography – the canteen, for example, was given a flat roof to provide the camera crew with a ‘grand stand’ view when shooting down into the studio’s street from a high angle. There were other advantages: ‘a false house front is so easy to build from the flat roof and upper storeys [can be] added with the utmost stability and realism’ (KW, 27 April 1939: 51). 

Sound stage entrance in They Drive By Night (l) and They Met in the Dark (r)

In other cases, buildings were erected so as to be both photogenic and adaptable, meaning that they could be dressed differently and re-used in multiple films. When the new sound stage was erected in 1936, its main entrance, ‘with its semi-circular sweep of canopy and steps leading to a revolving doorway’, was ‘designed for use as an external set, such as an hotel entrance … or a block of flats’ – a photograph of the stage entrance in Architects’ Review shows it dressed as the offices of the Continental Dispatch air-mail company (KW, 28 May 1936: 47; Roberts: 79). The distance between the stage and the main administration building that ran parallel to it was intentionally left wide enough ‘to accommodate all necessary cameras, booster lights and crew without seriously impeding traffic’ (KW, 28 May 1936: 47). Films that made use the sound-stage’s exterior include They Met in the Dark (1943), for which the entrance was transformed into the Hotel Monopole, and They Drive By Night (1938), where it became a palais de danse. 

Sound stage as shop front in They Drive By Night

In this latter film, the stage’s large ground-floor windows can also be seen acting as both shop windows and, boarded over, as advertising hoardings on the outside wall of the dancehall. Here, even though the camera movement that captures the space is ostensibly similar – a tracking pan from right to left – we get a sense of how changes to props, on-screen weather and the speed with which the camera moves encourage us to see the building in different ways, and so convince the viewer that they are looking at two different places. The windows of the ‘6d Stores,’ seen on a rainy night, are staged to create a sense of depth, showing off such items as canned foods, cups and plates under bright diegetic lights; advertising for the palais, on the other hand, is staged essentially two-dimensionally, with posters pasted onto the flat surface of a wall and depth instead provided by a post box and a lamppost that pass by in the foreground of the shot. Each shot only lasts a few seconds, but great care has evidently been taken to develop comprehensively different versions of the same 50-ft. stretch of wall, on the other side of which, beyond the camera’s gaze, could be found a scene dock and accommodation for the studio’s sound van.  

Carpenters’ shop architectural elevation (Richmond Local Studies Archive: PLA00855) and as in They Drive By Night

They Drive by Night also shows off another part of the studio designed to function as an exterior set. When the carpenters’ shop was extended as part of the 1936-37 expansion, it was constructed so that its longer western wall resembled a short street, constructed from a range of different aged and shaped buildings to give the impression that it had grown over time, while its northern wall, which faced the Thames, provided a ‘more or less Grecian elevation’. The scheme was approved in July 1936, despite the objections of B. R Davidge, who was employed by Teddington Urban District Council as a Town Planning consultant: ‘The design for the carpenter’s shop extension appears to be unnecessarily elaborate and rather suggests that it is being built up of surplus sets no longer required for filming purposes’ (Davidge). Davidge appears to have fundamentally misunderstood the purpose of the workshop’s unusual exterior. When completed the newly enlarged building was ready to step into the background, and can be seen in They Drive by Night, shot at an oblique angle, with props such as a poster for a boxing bout and a sign for the ‘Pins and Needles Club’ adding a touch of local colour. In the back of the shot, a flat has been erected perpendicular to the street, provide greater depth and solidity to the illusory urban scene and blocking out the grounds that ran down to the Thames. I have not yet identified any cinematic appearances by the river-facing ‘Grecian elevation,’ but would be very interested to hear from anyone who has, or from anyone who has spotted studio buildings in any other films made at Teddington.

Carpenters’ shop: ‘Grecian elevation’ (Richmond Local Studies ArchiveL PLA00855)


B. R. Davidge, letter to E. Bostock, 26 June 1936. Richmond Local Studies Archive, file PLA 00855.

Steve Chibnall, ‘Hollywood-on-Thames: the British productions of Warner Bros.–First National, 1931–1945’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 39:4 (2019), pp. 687-724.

Malcolm Newman and John Tasker, The Story of Teddington Studios (Print Inc.: Teddington, 2002).

Cecilie Leslie, ‘Dark deeds at Teddington studio’, Film Weekly, 9 January 1932, p. 10.

A. Stanley Roberts, ‘Film studios, Teddington’, Architects’ Journal, January 1937, p. 79.

World Film Encyclopedia, edited by Clarence Winchester (London: Amalgamated Press, 1933).

‘The rats have eaten my set!’ Letters from a German film architect in 1930s India

By Eleanor Halsall

On the 21st of March 1935, a young German stepped off the boat in Bombay. His name was Karl von Spreti and he had been offered a job managing set design at The Bombay Talkies, one of India’s newest film studios. ‘The task that awaits me is huge and I hope I will accomplish it’, he wrote to his parents during the long journey from Munich (9 March 1935). In the early twentieth century, German technicians and large production companies such as Ufa and Emelka, were recognised among the world leaders, even receiving recommendations from MGM’s representative in India, George Mooser. Advising the Indian Cinematograph Committee (an enquiry set up by the British in 1927 to develop filmmaking in India), Mooser recommended [to select] ‘Indians that you think would be most susceptible to training, send them to Germany first and then arrange for the technical men to come back with these Indians, because Indians will absorb a certain amount of technique and the working of the studios there if you have access to Ufa.’ (17 November 1927, ICCE)

Karl von Spreti. With kind permission from Heinrich von Spreti

Indians travelled abroad, mostly to America, France and, occasionally, Britain; but it was to Germany that many of them turned for expertise in filmmaking. Some, such as Krishna Hirlekar, worked in the associated industries of Agfa and Siemens; others, such as Mohan Bhavnani, picked up work with individual cameramen (Halsall, 2021). It was the Bengali lawyer, Himansu Rai, who became the most well-known in Europe, producing The Light of Asia (1925) with Emelka and Shiraz (1928) and A Throw of Dice (1929) with Ufa; all three films were directed by Franz Osten. After working at Ufa’s Babelsberg site and subsequently at London’s Stoll studios for the production of the Hindi/English dual language production, Karma (Freer-Hunt, 1933), Rai and his wife, Devika Rani, returned to India, where they set up their own studio in 1934. 

Himansu Rai on cover of Film-Magazin

From 1928-1930, the Rais had spent many months at Ufa’s Babelsberg site and its model of a modern and comprehensive film production unit appears to have influenced their plans. Devika Rani told the press that they intended to ‘take to Bombay European technical experts, photographers, make-up men, but [to] simultaneously employ our own people to learn how these things are done’ (Times of India, 5 June 1933). Five foreigners were recruited – four Germans and one Briton. Each of them was assigned a managerial role, heading up their individual specialisations. Lead director Franz Osten and cameraman Josef Wirsching had already arrived; Willy Zolle, a German laboratory technician, had been working elsewhere in Bombay, and Len Hartley was a British sound engineer who had recently worked on George Formby’s Off The Dole (1935).  A French make-up artist, Madame Andrée, married to sound engineer Savak Vacha, later completed the European personnel.

The Rais rented premises at Malad, some twenty kilometres north-west of Bombay (now Mumbai), acquiring a plot that included a large bungalow set in a twenty-one acre greenfield site with gardens and an orchard. ‘We drove down a bumpy sandy path, arriving at our destination after some 100 metres’ wrote von Spreti, ‘a guard in khaki uniform stood at the gate, and beckoned us in. We drove through a very beautiful garden and stopped in front of a palatial building that had belonged to a maharajah’ (22 March 1935). Von Spreti was impressed with the beauty and scale of the garden: ‘when I look out of my window I can imagine myself in a botanical garden.’ It was idyllic, but he soon found himself facing quite different challenges to those he had experienced during his training at Emelka’s Geiselgasteig studios outside Munich. ‘There are difficulties presented to first class film production in this country which do not exist in more congenial climates’ stated the Times of India reporting on a visit by the Governor of Bombay to the new film studios of The Bombay Talkies (17 May 1935). Heat, humidity, dust and water are some of the challenges the newspaper described; marauding wildlife, malaria, striking workers and communal unrest were not mentioned.

After completing a foundation diploma in architecture at Munich’s Technical University, von Spreti had worked at Emelka as a trainee film architect under the tutelage of that studio’s long established film architect, Willy Reiber. Now in India, his task was to kit out the new studio, buy in supplies of materials and props, design the sets and organise teams of workers to carry out his instructions, a level of responsibility he would undoubtedly not have achieved as rapidly had he remained at Geiselgasteig. ‘I immediately went to see the studio, which was very nice, but there was not a single piece of furniture, not a single wall, nothing at all. I have to start buying nails and tools, and on 1 April they already want to start filming. Simply impossible!’ (21 March 1935).  

Nevertheless, a few weeks later the Governor of Bombay was able to view ‘a magnificent studio equipped with all the most up to date appliances to expedite the moving of scenery, the mobility of cameras, the lighting of the sets […] beyond this giant thickly padded sound studio is a small projecting theatre in which scenes are shown to the chief executives but a few hours after being shot. Further over are dressing rooms for the artistes and a music room for orchestral rehearsals. There is an up to date laboratory for the development, fixing, drying, cutting and synchronisation of films. No expense has been spared to ensure efficiency, no money has been wasted on lavishness.’ (The Times of India, 17 May 1935). Actor Dilip Kumar later commented that the premises also boasted ‘a library, a dispensary [and] a canteen run by the famous Brandons’ (Screen, 5 October 1984).

Furnishing a studio ready for filming was one thing; managing Malad’s exotic wildlife quite another! Von Spreti had barely settled in before he wrote ‘on Friday afternoon there was a big hunt here as two snakes were killed, one 2 ½ m the other 1.80-2m’ (1 April 1935). More would follow: ‘Yesterday I found out that the snake we caught in the house at the beginning of April […] is more dangerous than the cobra, although it is much smaller. If you are bitten by it, you go crazy in 24 hours and there is nothing that can be done’ (14 June 1935). Snakes were not the only danger: ‘yesterday a worker in the laboratory was bitten by a scorpion and had to go straight to the doctor. On Saturday we had the pleasure of killing six snakes at once’ (19 May 1935). And those destructive rodents? Having made preparations for their first film, Jawani-ki-hawa (Spirit of Youth), von Spreti complained bitterly: ‘The rats, those brutes, ate my film set because they got a taste for the papier maché. Now, as long as I still need this set, I have to leave a night watch in the studio’ (15 July 1935).

My colleague Richard has written about the impact of fog on British studios; in Bombay, von Spreti had to deal with heavy monsoon rains and high humidity. The rains had arrived around the middle of June, after which he used a typewriter for his letters because ‘writing [by hand] on damp paper was unpleasant’ (19 June 1935). The humidity reached into everywhere and everything in the studio: ‘I always keep the studio doors closed and have threatened the workers with dismissal if they leave them open […] but when work is going on, the lamps radiate so much heat that the humidity evaporates’ (19 June 1935). His work at Geiselgasteig had prepared him for rain, however: ‘The outdoor shots that were taken yesterday were greatly interrupted by rain showers, and the Indians are pretty much hanging their heads, as they are not used to having to wait for the weather [to improve] even when filming. We are quite used to this from Munich’ (2 June 1936).

Jawani-ki-hawa cast list

Managing the people element of studio work was another experience altogether. For Jawani-ki-hawa von Spreti was paired with an art director whose creative skills were no compensation for his ignorance of how to design a functional film set. Von Spreti also had to adapt to different cultural norms, among them communal loyalty: ‘Yesterday was quite a stormy day, because the director was thrown out of the laboratory and all the other employees left with him’ (3 May 1935). Naturally, this aspect of collective unity brought serious problems if it happened midway through a shoot. Sometimes he had communal conflicts to contend with: ‘On Saturday a fight broke out in the workshop between two Hindus and one Christian, such that I needed to call a doctor. I dismissed them all immediately’ (23 November 1935). Von Spreti was clearly bemused when a group of Parsi men objected vociferously to the appointment of two of their women by the Studio. ‘Our film [Jawani-ki-hawa] is still not born because the Parsis continue to make trouble. Last night the film was released by the censor, after which the Parsis contacted the governor by telegraph’ (12 September 1935). A cause célèbre at the time, the dispute resulted in the resignation of three of Bombay Talkies’ Parsi board members. The women retained their positions.

The Studio’s workforce grew rapidly and by December 1936 von Spreti told his parents: ‘I have a crazy amount of work and now have 60 workers to supervise’ (10 December 1936). He took health and safety seriously. On the first day of shooting he reported: ‘We almost lost a worker who came into contact with the high voltage’ (1 April 1935). Anxious to avoid accidents, he remonstrated with Rai and Osten who wanted to carry on filming, using people who had been working all night: ‘People are too tired and the danger is too great that one of the lighting workers will fall asleep on the bridge, and if one of them falls off, then we can get terrible inconveniences from the police because of overworking the workers. This worried Rai who asked for my opinion, whereupon I absolutely voted for suspending the work, much to Osten’s fury’ (15 April 1936). In July 1937 von Spreti wrote ‘We have been working from 08:00-12:00 and 15:00-03:00, day and night for the last 3-4 weeks. No free Sunday and the same people without a shift change. No worker [in Germany] would tolerate this and neither would it be allowed’ (17 July 1937).

In 1937 von Spreti supplied three workers for Richard Eichberg’s Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb, writing that Eichberg was very satisfied with their work, which he found to be ‘as good as at home’ (undated letter). At the end of December 1937, Karl von Spreti returned to Germany, leaving the department he had established in the care of two of the people he had trained, Y. E. Hate and N. R. Acharya.  Although his early career as a film architect was overshadowed by his post-war work as a politician and diplomat, von Spreti’s personal letters to his family have revived interest in his contribution to the Bombay Talkies. This was, after all, work for which he frequently received praise: ‘Thatched cottages, complete to the last detail, and every feature typical of Indian rural life, dot the grounds to create an astonishingly realistic impression of the Indian countryside. The studio architect, von Spreti, has done his work with remarkable prevision’ (Times of India, 12 June 1936).


Anon, Indian Hollywood in Bombay, Times of India, 5 June 1933 (6). 

Anon, Bombay Talkies Studios: Governor’s visit, The Times of India, 17 May 1935 (12).

Anon, The Romance of An Untouchable Girl, The Times of India, 12 June 1936 (7). 

Dilip Kumar, ‘Those were my formative years,’ Screen, 5 October 1984 (6).

Eleanor Halsall, An epistolary history of Indo-German film relations, In: Zedler, 2021. 

Eleanor Halsall, Kosmopoliten, Nationalisten, Visionäre, Filmblatt, 2021-01.

Indian Cinematograph Committee Evidence (ICCE), Vol. 1 (462).

Karl von Spreti’s unpublished letters, 1935-1937.

Jörg Zedler, The Bombay Talkies Limited: Akteure – deutsche Einflüsse – kulturhistorischer Kontext, Spreti-Studien, Band 8 (Munich: Utz Verlag, 2021). 

Workers of the studios, unite!

As a number of UK sectors are currently swept by industrial action in demand for better and fairer pay and work conditions, the STUDIOTEC team collaboratively wrote this blog post which covers some historical aspects of film unionisation in the four countries of the project and highlights key episodes of industrial action supported by British, French, German and Italian film unions. We discuss examples that range from the early 1920s, a decade of profound industrial, economic and political transformation which led to the rise of authoritarian regimes in a number of European countries, to the critical aftermath of World War Two, which saw the internal restructuring of national film industries as well as their international realignment.

In the 1930s there were three main trade unions for workers in British studios: the National Association of Theatrical and Kine Employees (NATKE) representing skilled and unskilled workers in studios and cinemas including carpenters, electricians, plasterers, scenic artists, mechanics, property makers, stage hands, riggers, make-up artists and projectionists; the Association of Cine Technicians (ACT) representing cameramen, cutters, editors, art directors, production managers, assistant directors, still photographers and lab technicians; and the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) representing cinema projectionists but also electrical craftsmen, mostly sound engineers and recordists. Trade union recognition from the mid-1930s influenced wage agreements and by 1947 all three unions had secured agreements with employers. Industrial disputes tended to be intermittent rather than lasting for sustained periods of time, often involving only particular categories of workers.  

A strike organised by the ETU in April 1938 involved projectionists and studio electricians at the Gaumont-British studios at Gainsborough and Shepherd’s Bush. The strike’s effectiveness was weakened when all three unions did not unite for collective action. While the ACT instructed members not to break the strike by taking over the electricians’ work, some members of NATKE as well as the union’s leader Tom O’Brien, did not support the strike which ended with little gain (Chanan, 1976: 51). The ETU produced a pamphlet at the time of the strike. 

ETU Pamphlet

Another category of vulnerable workers were extras. Members of the newly formed Oriental Film Artistes’ Union (OFAU) marched in August 1939 from Denham Station to the Studios. They carried banners calling for Denham to book extras through the union rather than agencies which required them to pay a larger commission when hired for crowd scenes (Daily Herald, 4 Aug 1939: 9). Denham refused the union’s request and the police were called to disperse the protest. The OFAU was formed in 1938 to protect the interests of Asians working as extras as used at Denham for films such as The Drum (1938) and The Four Feathers (1939).  

Other examples of strikes affecting categories of studio labour include a brief hairdressers’ and make-up artists’ strike of NATKE members at Shepperton in 1947 when An Ideal Husband was being shot. American star Paulette Goddard brought her own stylist with her who had been granted a work permit by the Ministry of LabourThe strike involved more than 1,000 workers and was broken by a High Court injunction brought by British LionThe strike raised the issue of employing non-British labour in studios at a time when the unions were trying to secure reciprocal schemes with US unions for British workers to be similarly employed in Hollywood (Kinematograph Weekly, 3 Apr 1947: 7). Hairdressing skills were specialised, and much care was taken over the presentation of period styles in films such as An Ideal Husband. Here we see one of Shepperton’s hairdressers inspecting actors’ hair just before going on the set of An Ideal Husband. 

The 1920s were turbulent years for German industrial relations. The Weimar Republic was losing power and influence; economic collapse and hyperinflation meant that the promises of the new Republic’s post war agreement were becoming increasingly unattainable. 2.7 million men had returned injured or disabled from the war; 360,000 women had been widowed; and 900,000 children rendered fatherless; all of whom needed state support (Evans, 141). In the wake of the Hyperinflation of 1923, the Stinnes-Legien-Agreement of 1918 which had negotiated collective bargaining and the introduction of an eight hour working day was being, if not entirely dismantled, at least cut off at the knees. The policy of deflation sought to reduce prices and wages at the same time as it aimed to raise taxes and duties, putting considerable pressure on the average wage earner, let alone those without work (Deppe, 11). By March 1926, German unemployment had reached three million (Evans, 114). Worker unrest grew, with strikes and retaliatory lockouts continuing to be commonplace. That the government in 1928 gave financial support to workers locked out by the management of the iron and steel industry who had reneged on a deal to increase wages, came as a bitter pill to the employers in those industries (Evans, 115). 

What were the effects on the film industry? A brief and unsuccessful strike in the film industry in May 1920 sought to improve wages. In September 1921, the Zentralverband der Film- und Kinoangehörigen (a centralised union of film and cinema personnel) sought better rates of pay. Der Kinematograph of 18 September 1921, firmly on the side of the employers, reported that although Mayfilm GmbH and the Lubitsch-Gesellschaft initially showed some sympathy with the workers, both production companies toed the employers’ line on the basis that the strike was initiated before the deadline given to the employers had expired. The employers’ federation demanded that all workers return by 10 September, and those who did not were dismissed on the basis of unauthorised absence from work. As more than 6,000 were on strike, it is not clear how many lost their jobs and how many returned before the deadline. According to the Prager Tagblatt, the strike ended on 27 September 1921. 

Industrial unrest may have been quashed in the film industry, but strikes continued elsewhere throughout the decade, with May Day 1929 seeing violence on Berlin’s streets, resulting in 22 deaths and more than one hundred injuries. 

German studios were affected by external strikes, however, and these are referred to in Ufa board minutes. The summer of 1929 was a particularly disruptive time for Berlin’s film industry. Cinema owners were on strike against the Entertainment tax (Lustbarkeitssteuer) (Filmtechnik, 22 June 1929) and Ufa’s management board complained of the plasterers striking over wages, a reaction that Ufa proposed mitigating with a lump sum payment of RM 3,000 (R 109-I/1027b, 12 July 1929). Two months later the pipe layers were on strike, adding further delays to the building works at Babelsberg (19 September 1929).  

Although the German-language press reported on disruption in other national film industries including Britain (Badische Presse, ‘Streik in Londoner Filmatelier’ 11 July 1936), and Hollywood (Sozialdemokrat, 15 June 1937), evidence of strikes in the German industry disappears. The National Socialist regime changed the landscape by dismantling all free unions and enforcing its own, ideologically designed structure of employee representation. 

Similarly to Nazi Germany, it is not easy to find evidence of discontent as it might have existed among Italian film studio workers who opposed Mussolini’s fascist regime and its labour policies and ideology. While it was not compulsory to be a member of the fascist party to work in the Italian film industry, being a ‘tesserato’ of the Federazione nazionale fascista dei lavoratori dello spettacolo (the workers of the performing arts) or of the Federazione nazionale fascista degli industriali dello spettacolo (the industrialists) – that is, being registered as a party member and carrying a card that showed your political affiliation – could bring several advantages including free theatre and cinema membership! It is unclear how much political leverage these party unions had within the larger corporative system and whether they were actually able to promote and safeguard workers’ rights in the event of accidents and controversies arising in the workplace. A notable episode of peaceful dissent, which slightly pre-dates our 1930-60 focus, might give us an idea of what film unionization might have meant for the fascist regime.  

At 2 pm on 20th of August 1924, 700 film workers (other accounts give around 600, possibly including workers, technicians and a large number of extras) abandoned a filming site located in an area at the outskirts of Rome, known as Quadraro (the same site chosen some ten years later to build the iconic Cinecittà), where the Joppa gate, the Circus Maximus and other giant outdoor sets had been built for the filming of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s historical epic Ben Hur (Niblo 1925) (Solomon 2016). In agreement with the film’s management, the large group had left the filming site to go and lay flowers along the river Tiber to pay respect to the socialist Member of Parliament Giacomo Matteotti, whose remains were being transported out of Rome to his native town to receive burial (Quargnolo and Redi 1995:1). Notoriously, Matteotti had been kidnapped and murdered a few weeks earlier, on 10th June 1924, by a group of killers linked with the fascist secret police after the politician had bravely denounced, during a parliament speech, election frauds caused by fascist intimidation and violence.  

As described by the anonymous journalist of the socialist paper Avanti!, when some hundred workers returned to the filming site the morning after to resume their shift they were attacked and beaten up by a large group of black shirt ‘squadristi’ (fascist action squads) who raided the site with batons and guns. After the attack, the police closed down the site for reasons of public order and requested the film management to perform, against their will, a ‘selection’ of the personnel involved in the events. Allegedly, only those who enrolled in the fascist corporative unions were allowed to resume work. As protested by Avanti!, what happened was ‘an unprecedented abuse of power’, an ‘act of terrorism’ that ‘nobody will ever forget’ (qtd. Quargnolo, Redi 1995: 2-3).  

It took some twenty years for Italian film workers to take to the streets again to voice their protests against the ruling government. Film workers’ largest demonstration in the immediate post-war years took place in Rome on 20 February 1949. The event was covered extensively by the specialised press and the national and local newspapers, generating a wide-ranging discussion that reached the seats of Italy’s new Republican parliament elected in June 1946. Over 15,000 studio workers, technicians, actors supported by the CGIL union and producers of the national film association ANICA joined forces to denounce the ‘guilty indifference’ of the Christian Democratic government, recently elected in power, for its inability to safeguard local employment, enact the already insufficient state provisions (decree No. 16 March 1947) and guarantee domestic film quotas against Hollywood’s crushing competition (Cinema, 1949: 261). On the day of the protest, passionate speeches ‘in defence of Italian cinema’ were given in Piazza del Popolo in Rome by high profile personalities of the film industry, including Anna Magnani and Vittorio De Sica.  

Speeches turned into a march as workers flowed into the central Corso Emanuele heading towards the offices of the Direzione Generale dello Spettacolo in via Veneto, where some of the placards that accompanied the protest were eventually laid down. Some read: ‘The government is absent’, ‘Down with speculators’, ‘Let’s defend our art our culture our jobs!’ (Cinema, 1949: 296-298). According to the film magazine Cinema, the police rapid response unit known as ‘la Celere’ was called in, diverting the peaceful march of film workers quite abruptly (1949: 261). According to the national newspaper Corriere d’Informazione (1949), the police were called in to stop the march because it had not been authorised. Another ‘ploy to intimidate and divide [us]’, objected film director Giuseppe De Santis, concluding: ‘we must insist […] the battle has just begun’ (Cinema, 1949: 261).

With the exception of film actors, represented by the Union des Artistes, a long-established union in theatre circles, in the early 1930s French film professionals did not have a representative body which defended their rights and negotiated their contracts with producers or studio directors. Considering themselves above all as ‘creators’, artistic staff (scriptwriters, directors, composers, set-designers or cinematographers) even seemed reluctant to join a union, seen as the exclusive domain of the working class. Behind the glittering and somewhat bohemian image of the French film studios, presented by the film press as ‘dream factories’ where people worked together with joy and good spirit for the love of the 7th Art, workers’ conditions in the studios were rather difficult because of hazardous and over-heated work environments and often fluctuating and exhausting working hours (Lefeuvre 2021: 313-323).

Even if the making of films was largely deregulated, labour disputes did not emerge in the early years of sound. From 1933 onwards, as the international financial crisis affected the national film industry, the fall in production levels, the rise in unemployment and the numerous bankruptcies profoundly destabilized the organisation of French film studios. From 1935 onwards, the first large-scale redundancies took place. The Tobis studios were the first to be affected in October 1935, followed by the Saint-Maurice studios in November 1936 and then the Pathé studios in Joinville in September 1937. Other studios reduced their staff and lowered their salaries, prompting the first major protests among studio workers. 

The technicians’ unions, gathered within the FNSAFF (Fédération Nationale des Syndicats d’Artisans Français du Film), consisted of around 400 members including directors, scriptwriters, composers, and set designers. By 1936, the SGTIF (Syndicat Général des Travailleurs de l’Industrie du Film), created in July 1934, comprised of 3,000 members and represented the manual workers (painters, plasters, carpenters, grips, etc. (Lefeuvre 2018). It was under the SGTIF’s impetus that in the summer of 1936, in the wake of widespread social discontent, strikes and factory occupations sweeping across the country, French studio workers went on strike and occupied their workplace (Lefeuvre 2017).

Strikes were experienced as a festive moment, a ‘joyful’ communion between workers (Weil 1951). During the two weeks of occupation, film studio strikers’ daily life consisted of union meetings to discuss the demands to be made, but also of leisure activities such as ball games, ‘radio-crochet’ and, of course, film screenings. Dancing, however, was prohibited at the Joinville studios, ostensibly ‘to reassure jealous wives’ (Derain 1936). Time was also spent on the logistics of the occupation (e.g., sleeping arrangements, food supplies, cleaning the stages and workshops), often relying on the support of the neighbouring population. In the short documentary film Grèves d’occupation (1936, dir. unknown) which evokes the daily life of the Parisian strikers, one can see a large billboard painted by the Joinville strikers announcing ‘a procession of gladiators’, ‘a stilt race’ or the election of the ‘Queen of the Pathé strikers’. 

The strikes of June 1936 mark an important turning point in the evolution of the contractual conditions for French cinema professionals. On 23 June 1936, after two weeks of negotiations, the first industrial collective agreement was signed. It secured important measures including better health and safety conditions in the studios, a defined salary scale, an increase in the lowest wages, two weeks’ paid holiday and the 40-hour week. Faced with this resounding victory, many technicians, actors, and directors regretted not having participated directly in the industrial action. One of them was Jean Renoir who, in December 1936, in Le Travailleur du film, expressed his support for film workers declaring: 

Thanks to the workers. It is their action that has led to this improvement in our working conditions and if we, the artistic personnel, must have a feeling towards them, it can only be one of regret for we did not support their action more energetically, which should have been our common action (1936: 2).

The 1936 strike pushed technicians and their unions to review their positions and to participate more actively in the industrial controversies that shook the French studios in the last years of the decade. The different unions began negotiations with the producers’ association and studio directors, and between September 1936 and November 1937, more collective agreements were signed, involving different categories of workers including studio administrative employees (Lefeuvre 2017). In the short space of three years, the French studios went from complete deregulation to a situation where all the professional categories in the studios were represented and protected from the abuses of producers and studio directors. 

The social struggles of the 1930s enabled studio professionals to become aware of the common struggles that could unite them, despite the heterogeneity of their status, their levels of remuneration or their socio-cultural backgrounds. The formation of unions in which dressers, prop-makers and seamstresses mixed with directors or scriptwriters for the first time allowed for intersectoral dialogue and exchange. The war and the social struggles of the post-war period accentuated the need to collaboratively defend working standards in a context that was increasingly threatening the future of French film production. As a sign of this evolution, during the large demonstration on 4 January 1948, which denounced the Blum-Byrnes agreements and the competition from American cinema, famous stars such as Jean Marais and Simone Signoret marched for the first time alongside studio workers and technicians (in this image actors Marais and Madeleine Sologne in the front row):

‘French Cinema Must Live’

Between the early 1920s and the late 1940s workers of Western European studios gradually unionised in demand of better working standards or against discriminatory regulation. Workers’ decision to withhold their labour, to march in protest or even to occupy the studios was often stimulated by larger societal and systemic issues, such as post-war inflation, unemployment and political opposition. Whereas the 1950s were a period of infrastructural growth and prosperity for many Western European studios and their associated film companies, the 1950s were also years during which film studios’ workforce and working practices and standards internationalised considerably. We shall wait until the 1960s and 1970s for European studios to become, alongside factories and universities, political battleground for more emancipating social claims.    


Anon., ‘Cine-comizio in Piazza del Popolo’, Corriere d’Informazione (21-22 Feb. 1949): 1. 

Chanan, Michael, Labour Power in the British Film Industry (London: BFI, 1976). 

De Agostini, Fabio, and Massimo Mida, ‘L’ordine non regna più a Varsavia’, Cinema, no. 10 (15 Mar. 1949): 296–98. 

De Santis, Giuseppe, ‘Piazza Del Popolo, prima o dopo’, Cinema, no. 9 (28 Feb. 1949): 261. 

Deppe, Frank and Witich Rossmann, Wirtschaftkrise Faschismus Gewerkschaften (Cologne: Pahl-Rugenstein Verlag, 1981).  

Derain, Lucie, ‘La grève des studios’, La Cinématographie française, no. 919 (13 June 1936): 10. 

Evans, Richard J., The Coming of the Third Reich (London: Penguin Books, 2004).

Lefeuvre, Morgan, ‘Les grèves d’occupation de juin 1936 dans les studios : un tournant dans l’histoire sociale des travailleurs du film’, ed. Laurent Creton and Michel Marie, Le Front populaire et le cinéma français (Paris: Presses de la Sorbonne Nouvelle, 2017): 35-46.

Lefeuvre, Morgan, ‘Grèves rouges et syndicats jaunes : mouvement social et divisions syndicales dans les studios français (1936-1939)’, ed. Tangui Perron, L’Écran rouge. Syndicalisme et cinéma de Gabin à Belmondo (Paris: L’Atelier, 2018): 42-51.

Lefeuvre, Morgan, Les Manufactures de nos rêves. Les studios de cinéma français des années 1930 (Rennes: PUR, 2021).

Quargnolo, Mario, and Riccardo Redi, ‘Ben Hur a Roma nel 1924’, Immagine: Note di storia del Cinema, no. 33 (Winter 1995): 1–3. 

Renoir, Jean, ‘Un tout petit caillou’, Le Travailleur du film, no. 322 (December 1936): 2. 

Solomon, Jon, Ben-HurThe Original Blockbuster (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016). 

Weil, Simone, La Condition ouvrière (Paris : Gallimard, 1951).

Green for Danger: Pinewood’s first post-war film

By Sarah Street

Following Richard Farmer’s recent post on how the Royal Mint established a subsidiary in Pinewood during the Second World War, the story of the first film to be produced once the studio was de-requisitioned sheds light on the ingenious and resourceful ways in which production teams rose to the challenge of making films when materials required for building sets such as hessian, plaster, timber, paper, rubber and canvas were in short supply, and post-war recovery was only just beginning. As the Kinematograph Weekly put it: ‘Pinewood is the mirror of the production industry: in it we can see many of the problems that are going to face our other major studios when they resume production’ (14 March 1946: 12). Pinewood re-opened its doors to companies in the Independent Group: Cineguild, the Archers and Individual Pictures. Individual was a newly formed production company of prolific British filmmakers Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, and Green for Danger (1946), an adaptation of a detective novel by Christianna Brand, was the first film they made at Pinewood after the war. 

The fiction revolves around a detective’s often rather blundering investigations into some unexplained murders which have taken place in a hospital. Whodunnit? Could be the surgeon, one of the nurses or the anaesthetist. One thing’s for sure, the action takes place within the confines of the hospital, and for this an elaborate set was required. Apart from two brief shots at the beginning, the film was made entirely in the studios spread over two of the sound stages. The work of production designer Peter Proud was remarkable for achieving some amazing results: the creation of a composite hospital set which in the story has been established within the interior of an Elizabethan house requisitioned for an emergency wartime hospital. This plot concentrated action within the hospital’s spaces including a main corridor, several wards, Sister’s office, a large operating theatre, a scrubbing-up room, sterilizing room, hospital laundry, a social hall and adjoining nurses’ rest room, an office, reception desk and porter’s lodge. 

Proud made detailed sketches of the sets in advance of filming, collaborating closely with director Sidney Gilliat to work out the most effective shot constructions. Proud devised several ingenious methods which made filming on this set as smooth and mobile as possible, including making ceilings on runners which could be moved quickly to assist the camera crew. Most of the wall sections were mounted on rollers so that entire sections could be swung in and out of position very quickly. 

To save time the operating theatre set was built twice, each one providing a different viewpoint that the unit could easily capture by moving effortlessly between the two. Proud also used materials in highly resourceful ways such as covering a ceiling by sandfly netting to create a strong, solid ceiling effect but which was transparent enough for the studio lights to penetrate. He used paint rather than plaster on floors to create the impression of concrete and a brick wall effect was made using painted details on glass. Another clever trick was created by special effects expert plasterer Bill Baines who made a bas-relief in plasticine on a glass panel to create the effect of a tower. A report on the film’s production gave the detail: ‘The lower outline was painted to match the lower half of the tower set. Foliage and a cloud effect were painted on a plaster cyclorama, standing behind the bas-relief. The camera crew panned down on a model head’ (Kinematograph Weekly, 2 May 1946: 40). The large number of specialist props including hospital equipment were loaned from the Ministry of Supply. The incongruity of a camera crew in an operating theatre provided some wonderful photo opportunities for reporters, as in this case when the crew took a tea break during filming.

The cinematographer on Green for Danger was Ossie Morris, who recalled difficulties working on the film because Pinewood had started to use American-designed Mitchell cameras which had a different viewing system from the Debrie cameras he was more used to working with. Rather than being able to see exactly what the camera would capture through the viewfinder, the Mitchell camera had its viewer on the left-hand side, away from the axis of the lens and the film gate. This caused parallax problems and particular difficulties in shots which included the five murder suspects even though Morris could only see three in the viewfinder. As he put it: ‘Getting compositions in the viewfinder you have to adopt a whole different approach…You have to make your brain realise you’ve got five people in there’ (Morris 1987). A particularly testing 360 degrees shot came early on in the film when the camera pans across the five possible suspects in the operating theatre, as you’ll see in this extract in which Police Inspector Cockrill (Alastair Sim) recalls the investigation. 

Even though most of Green for Danger was shot inside Pinewood, an exterior flashback sequence to a London air raid required a perfectly clear sky. Gilliat was equipped with meteorological reports by International Meteorological Consultants, a new service recently hired by Rank which provided production units with supposedly more accurate local weather reports than had previously been possible from the Air Ministry. But although the service aimed to save producers time and money, Gilliat wasn’t impressed with its rather inflated claims to super-accuracy (Macnab 1993: 104). On this occasion night shooting was however successful, but the sound crew encountered a problem when some nightingales they’d disturbed started singing into the mike. The Kinematograph Weekly reported: ‘The unwelcome guests were quickly dispersed by a flood of light from an inverted arc’ (20 June 1946: 43). IMCOS’s American director Ken Willard and employment of American personnel were criticized by the Association of Cine Technicians which at the time was pressing for any hiring of non-British studio personnel to be a reciprocal arrangement. IMCOS was connected at that time to Rank’s internationalist policies and post-war export drive even though in the end producers preferred to rely on local weather reports when scheduling exterior location shooting. 

The film was greeted favourably by critics; it did good business at the British box-office and despite distribution problems comparatively well in the USA. For Launder and Gilliat it represented another well-crafted, mid-range budgeted film whose reputation has increased over time (Brown 1977: 120). The film nearly didn’t get made because the British Board of Film Censors got the wrong end of the stick, thinking the proposal would be a literal adaptation of the novel which was set in a military hospital, rather than the civilian facility which featured in the film. Gilliat recalled their reasoning (spoiler alert!) was ‘that any soldiers would be so overcome by the fear of being murdered by one of the nurses that it could seriously affect their chance of recovery!’ (Brown 1977: 120). As soon as they were put right, the production was given the go-ahead, so bravo for Launder and Gilliat. And here they are sitting proudly with the Green for Danger set in the background.


Brown, Geoff, Launder and Gilliat, BFI, 1977.

Kinematograph Weekly, 14 March 1946: 12; 2 May 1946: 40; 20 June 1946: 43.

Morris, Oswald, BECTU interview no. 9, 21 July 1987.

Macnab, Geoffrey, J. Arthur Rank and the British Film Industry, Routledge, 1993.

Picturegoer, 25 May 1946: 9.

The Royal Mint at Pinewood

By Richard Farmer

The Royal Mint has been tasked with producing Britain’s coinage since the 9th century, and throughout its long history it has been acutely sensitive to the possibility of counterfeiting and forgery. It is therefore ironic that during the Second World War the site chosen for the erection of a subsidiary Mint was Pinewood film studios, where fabrication and passing the artificial off as real were a way of life. Here is the Pinewood site map showing the subsidiary Mint’s location.

The Pinewood Mint commenced work in June 1941 and was located in the studio’s scene dock, delayed slightly by the need to find a new home for the numerous sets it had previously housed. It formed part of a wider strategy of dispersal – that is, moving key industrial infrastructure outside major cities and re-establishing it in supposedly safer places. Pinewood was not the only studio to be taken over; the large size and semi-rural location of many British film production facilities meant that they were requisitioned by government and industry (see Sarah Street, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television article to be published 2022/3). Establishing a subsidiary Mint at Pinewood was intended to allow for the uninterrupted striking of coins should the primary facility in east London be damaged or put out of action by enemy bombs. This turned out to be a sensible precaution: during the war the main Mint was hit by ‘several high-explosive bombs, four anti-aircraft shells, and many incendiary bombs,’ with damage causing temporary suspension of work (Craig 1953: 348). Pinewood was chosen because Iver Heath in Buckinghamshire was thought close enough to the city to be easily accessible, but far enough outside London to be less at risk from the Luftwaffe. Even so, the studios were camouflaged in an attempt to make them less visible from the air, as can be seen in this aerial shot. 

Although the production of commercial feature films ceased at Pinewood during the war, the studio was home to several service film units, including the Army Film and Photographic Unit (AFPU). The correspondence set out below – which has been lightly edited from originals contained in National Archives file MINT 20/1805 – demonstrates that relationships between the studio’s various tenants were not always entirely harmonious.

On 24 June 1943, Deputy Master and Comptroller of the Mint, J. H. Craig, wrote to the Undersecretary of State for War about recent events at Pinewood: 

About 10 am on the 22nd June, 1943, a mass of high explosive was detonated at a distance of 100 to 150 yards from the premises of the Royal Mint in Pinewood studios, Iver Heath, Bucks, by a Lieutenant, R.E., acting as part of, or in behalf of, the Army Film Photographic Unit … The explosion was not created in connection with military exercises or for purposes of research, but appears to have been a mere preliminary operation intended to lead ultimately to the taking of some part of a cinematograph film to be exhibited, if successful, for entertainment. 

The detritus from the explosion penetrated the roof of the Royal Mint in a number of places, the holes being up to 8 inch diameter, and injected into the premises a great deal of dirt, mingled with flying or falling fragments of glass from the roof. In present circumstances, the damage will be difficult to repair completely. I understand that a neighbouring electric power plant and a shed containing aeroplane parts were damaged somewhat more severely, and that this is not the first explosion of some magnitude which has occurred as Pinewood studios.  

It is realised that the officers employed on each film work cannot be expected to be those of high efficiency, but it is hoped that the Army Council will take such steps as are requisite to ensure that the handling by them of high explosive or other lethal apparatus is so conducted as not to endanger life, plant, or essential work.

The Mint was clearly annoyed to have come under friendly fire, not least because it had come to Pinewood in an attempt to minimise war-related disruption to its operations. More than a month passed before Craig received a reply, sent on 27 July 1943 behalf of the Army’s director of public relations:

Sir, with reference to your letter … on the subject of damage caused to the premises of the Royal Mint at Pinewood studios by the exploding of an ammonal charge, I am directed to express regret that this should have occurred.

A full investigation has been made and in the view of the Royal Engineer in charge, the amount of explosive used was not excessive. It is, of course, difficult to predict with accuracy the precise effect of exploding a charge in the ground, as much depend on the consistence of the earth. In this instance clods of earth were flung further than was calculated, with the unfortunate result described in your letter. 

I am to point out, however, that your animadversion upon the efficiency of the Royal Engineer officer detailed to carry out this work is without foundation. Far from being, as you imply, an officer of a low standard of efficiency, he belongs to a field unit highly trained in demolition work. In the view of this Department no blame connected with this incident attached to this officer or to anyone else engaged on the production of this important film of the North African campaign. That the damage should have occurred is unfortunate, and I am therefore to express the hope that you will accept the apology of this Department.

The manufacture of coins recommenced after a short spell of inactivity. The Mint left Pinewood shortly after the war finished, bringing an end to what wags suggested was the only period in which the studio actually made money.


John Craig, The Mint: A History of the London Mint from AD 287 to 1948 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1953).

Sarah Street, ‘Requisitioning film studios in wartime Britain’ (forthcoming in Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 2022-23).

‘Where are the British Shirley Temples?’ The employment of children in British film studios

By Richard Farmer

The issue of exploitative child labour in Britain might bring to mind images of Victorian chimney sweeps and six-year-old factory hands, and might almost as easily be dismissed as having been tidily resolved by a series of mines, factories and education acts passed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, which eventually prohibited the full-time employment of youths of compulsory school age (12 at the time that the Employment of Children Act was passed in 1903, rising to 14 in 1918 and 15 in 1947) or the part-time employment of those two years younger. However, until 1963, laws intended to protect children from exploitation in the workplace made it more difficult for British film producers to employ them in studios, precluding – in theory perhaps more than in reality – the emergence of ‘British Shirley Temples’ (Whitley 1935: 26). This prompted frequent, and frequently repetitive, debates about whether children could work on the films, at what age and for how many hours a day, the impact that such work might have on their education, and even whether the absence of a paying audience watching them perform meant that a film studio (in contrast to a theatre) constituted a factory for the purposes of child labour. 

Daily Mirror, 20 Sept 1935

This, though, was not a matter that the British film industry was willing to accept lying down, and British producers were determined to get children in front of the cameras. There were a number of reasons for this. First, children constituted an important audience, and were believed to want to see themselves represented in British films. Second, they were essential to the production of documentary or educational films, for instance those dealing with neonatal and infant healthcare. Finally, as a report produced in 1950 noted, they were needed ‘for ordinary feature films because without them the British film is unrealistic, in so far as all families would have to be shown as childless’ (Report 1950: ¶155). 

Perhaps most importantly, child actors were often very popular. Such was the box-office appeal of imported child stars like Shirley Temple and Mickey Rooney, and such was the money that they earned for overseas producers, that in 1933 the films section of the Federation of British Industries (FBI) resolved that ‘in the opinion of the British film production industry, it is essential that the employment of children in film studios in Great Britain shall be permitted’ (Anon 1933: 3). Walter Mycroft of British International Pictures (BIP) proclaimed that ‘We must have children to compete with films from the United States’ (Mannock 1935: 2), whilst other commentators noted that French and German films starring children had also found an audience in the UK, and that the production of big-budget pictures were being held up or abandoned because of the prohibition on the employment of children (Anon 1936: 8). The issue of tidying up the laws concerning the employment of child actors was one that that labour and management could agree on, and a joint delegation from the FBI and the Trades Union Council visited Whitehall in December 1936 in the hope of that they might persuade the Home Office to incorporate specific provisions concerning the employment of child actors in studios in a proposed Factories Act (National Archives: LAB 14/396). They failed.

The difficulties associated with engaging children in British studios led to some youthful British actors moving to Hollywood to pursue fame and fortune. London-born Freddie Bartholomew was ten when in 1934 he moved to America so that he might take a leading role in MGM’s David Copperfield (1935). As British law would not have permitted him to leave the country to take up paid work overseas, his engagement could only be confirmed during a suspiciously well-timed ‘holiday’ in New York (Whitley 1935: 26), although Bartholomew’s estranged father almost succeeded in putting the kybosh on the contract by telling the British press that Freddie had been engaged whilst still in England (Behlmer 1972: 73-4).

Child stars moving in the opposite direction could find themselves in trouble. In 1949, 12-year-old Bobby Driscoll, who had already appeared in films such as Song of the South (1946) and The Window (1949), arrived in Britain to make Treasure Island for Disney at Denham. Disney did not seek to obtain the necessary employment permit for Driscoll, in large part because of his age meant that he could not legally be allowed to work in Britain (Deane 1949: 8).[1] Driscoll, his father, and Disney were each fined £100. Treasure Island’s producers reworked their schedule, at a reported cost of $84,000 (Anon 1949a: 17),[2] to allow the young star to complete shooting as quickly as possible, claiming to have ‘too much money involved’ in the film to replace Driscoll and concerned that he might at some point be prohibited from returning to the studio (Anon 1949b: 3).

Disney felt that it, and Driscoll, were being singled out for unfair attention, noting that films featuring or starring children were made in Britain by British companies with little or no trouble, including such near contemporary productions as The Fallen Idol and Oliver Twist (both 1948). Indeed, the premiere of the latter was attended by both cabinet minister Herbert Morrison and Queen Mary, to whom child star John Howard Davies was presented. Evidently, films produced using child actors were not beyond the pale as far as the great and the good were concerned. Nor were they unusual; and some child performers such as Mandy Miller (The Man in the White Suit, 1951; Mandy, 1952; etc.) were able to make a sufficient number of films to attain a degree of stardom.

The legal restrictions on the employment of children in British film studios were therefore clearly not insurmountable. Many British producers simply gambled on working in an occasional child scene, “chancing” the common informer who may come along and denounce them to the authorities (Anon 1936: 8). Concerns about the legal repercussions of such schemes were not ill-founded, and throughout the 1930s filmmakers received summonses for employing children. Three films released in 1935 alone resulted in producers being brought before the magistrates: 

  • City Films was fined 10 shillings for each of the four summonses it received for employing four children under 12 years of age to appear in Play Up the Band whilst the film was shooting on location at Crystal Palace.
  • BIP was fined 10 shillings for each of the six summonses it received for employing six girls under 12 years of age to appear in Royal Cavalcade at its Elstree studio. The company also paid £5 5s. costs.
  • Associated Talking Pictures (ATP) paid 10s 6d. costs to dismiss charges against it relating to the employment of four Boy Scouts at its Ealing studio during the production of Look Up and Laugh. Other summonses for employing children under the age of 12, making children work after 5.30pm and making them work more than 5 hours in a day, were adjourned sine die

A few years later, Mayflower Films received 26 separate summonses for offences relating to the production of Vessel of Wrath (1938) at Elstree. The company was fined £1 for each offence, and £10 costs, despite claiming that the children, who were each paid a guinea a day, had not missed out educationally because actress Elsa Lanchester, who portrayed a mission-school teacher in the film, continued her role ‘off the set by giving … English lessons’ (Anon 1938: 6).

Child actors in Vessel of Wrath

Compared to the sizeable budgets that these films enjoyed, such fines were relatively small and might almost be understood as one of the costs of doing business in Britain. Indeed, for many years the maximum penalty that could be imposed on studios for employing children could not exceed £5 for a first offence or £20 for a second or subsequent offence (Report 1950: ¶24). Added to this was a degree of sympathy for British film producers – children were permitted, within certain guidelines, to appear on the stage or on BBC wireless programmes, so why should work in a film studio be illegal simply because there was no specific legislation that permitted it? When ATP was prosecuted in relation to Look Up and Laugh, for instance, the local council went out of its way to stress in court that although it was bound to report the breach of the law, it harboured ‘no antagonistic feeling’ towards the studio and ‘recognised the difficulties of the film industry in the making of films’ (Anon 1935: 9). 

Each of the four cases mentioned above relate to the employment of children as extras, most of whom would have been in and out of the studio in a few days. However, should a child in a prominent role be forced to give up filming part-way through production, the consequences would have been considerably more expensive, involving recasting and reshoots, and this might explain why many British filmmakers resorted to underhand tactics to ensure that their child stars could work in peace. Whilst claims that children were ‘“smuggled” into studios to film in secret’ should probably not be taken literally (Anon 1950: 5), it tended to be the case that producers held off announcing a child’s appearance until after a film was in the can. Eleven-year-old William Andy Ray’s role in The Mudlark (1950), for example, was not revealed until after shooting ended, in order to ensure that the film could be completed without the relevant authorities beating the door down (Richards 1950: 13). The mistake that Disney made when producing Treasure Island might have been to draw too much attention to the presence of its child star.

Whilst we might wonder whether the post facto announcement of child actors also worked to generate valuable publicity, such subterfuge did tend to be effective; there were few, if any, retrospective prosecutions, and local authorities sometimes found it difficult to gain access to studios to inspect for the presence of children, as the Bateson Committee’s report pointed out in 1950: ‘A justice’s warrant is necessary to authorise an officer of a local education authority to enter premises where he thinks an offence is being committed’ (Report 1950: ¶24). Some local authorities found it easier to ensure child safety in studios by coming to extra-statutory agreements with producers that permitted filmmakers to employ children on the understanding that council officers were able to ensure that a child’s welfare and education was being appropriately attended to (Report 1950: ¶24). Other filmmakers adopted a policy of engaging children as soon as they could legally be employed, and then playing them in roles younger than their actual age. This was a tactic used successfully for many years by Mary Field at the Children’s Film Foundation (Agajanian 1998: 400).

The implementation of the 1963 Children and Young Person’s Act finally provided greater clarity. The Act allowed for the first time the legal employment of younger children by providing local authority with the power to licence the employment of children under 13 years of age in roles where ‘the part they are to act cannot be taken except by a child of about their age’ (s 38 (1)). All children of compulsory school age needed to be employed under licence, and these would be granted only in instances where ‘proper provision has been made to secure their health and kind treatment and that, having regard to such provision (if any) as has been or will be made therefor, their education will not suffer.’ (s 37 (4)). Playing the title role in Oliver! (1968), 8-year-old Mark Lester benefitted from the provisions of the new act, spending three hours on set each day and receiving lessons in ‘a special schoolroom built in the studios’ under the careful watch of ‘two trained teachers’ (Short 1967: 15). 

Mark Lester in Oliver!

Despite the implantation of the 1963 Act, Oliver’s producers still claimed to be wary of announcing Lester’s involvement in their film, citing concerns that they might face prosecution under the Employment of Children Act, 1903. Whilst such claims made for good copy, especially in relation to a film that took the mistreatment and exploitation of children as a central theme, we should also note that during the decades it took parliament to pass legislation permitting the employment of children in film studios, a sense of confusion regarding child actors became engrained within the British film industry. But whilst we should be grateful that children are properly cared for and educated whilst working in British studios, the question of child labour legislation and its impact on film production should also shine a light on the wide range of regulations that affect studio working practices and the lives of all who are employed there.


Rowana Agajanian (1998), ‘Just for Kids?’: Saturday morning cinema and Britain’s children’s film foundation in the 1960s,’ Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 18:3: 395-409.

Anon (1933), ‘Child actors’, Yorkshire Post, 7 December: 3.

Anon (1935), ‘Boy Scouts employed in Ealing film’, West Middlesex Gazette, 22 June: 9.

Anon (1936), ‘The £250-a-week child’, John Bull, 11 January: 8-9.

Anon (1938), ‘Child artistes in British films’, Kinematograph Weekly, 5 May: 6.

Anon (1949a), ‘British sustain Disney kid fine’, Variety, 26 October: 17.

Anon (1949b), ‘Boy star loses appeal’, Daily Mirror, 26 October: 3.

Anon (1950), ‘Child film actors move’, Daily Record, 23 August: 5.

Rudy Behlmer (1972), Memo from David O. Selznick. New York: Viking Press. Telegram from Selznick to Sol Rosenblatt, 17 August 1934.

Milton Deane (1949), ‘20th will make at least 30’, Hollywood Reporter, 6 October: 8.

P. L. Mannock (1935), ‘Allowing film children’, Daily Herald, 7 August: 2.

National Archives, Kew: LAB 14/396 – Employment of children in film studios: meeting with representatives of Trades Union Congress.

Report of the Departmental Committee on the Employment of Children as Film Actors, in Theatrical Work and in Ballet(1950). London: HMSO.

Dick Richards (1950), ‘David falls for Hollywood’, Sunday Pictorial, 30 June: 13.

Don Short (1967), ‘Haunting face of the film men’s secret Oliver’, Daily Mirror, 3 November: 15.

R. J. Whitley (1935), ‘Where are the British Shirley Temples?’, Daily Mirror, 20 September: 26.

Filmkinder: Children in German Films

By Eleanor Halsall

Gerhard Lamprecht’s 1931 film Emil und die Detektive/Emil and the Detectives, is one of the most famous German children’s films. Adapted by Billy Wilder from the eponymous book by Erich Kästner, the film was greeted with enthusiasm in Germany where it was described as a ‘knockout’ by the LichtbildbühneEmil’s narrative was always likely to strike a chord and warm the heart: children coalesce as a group to defeat an adult swindler and retrieve the money stolen from a young boy – Emil – that was originally intended for his grandmother. Reviewing a screening attended by a ‘significant minority of children’, Georg Herzberg described the growing excitement as children in the audience wriggled with trepidation and whooped for joy, lost in vicarious pleasure as they watched their peers mete out justice on the screen (Film-Kurier, 3 December 1931). Emil’s narrative endures, having been remade more than eight times for cinema and television, including in Britain (1935 and 1952) and the US (1964).

Source: Filmportal

Child actors will always be in demand and clearly Lamprecht’s film, and indeed many others, could not have been made without them. Herzberg’s description of the young audience’s reaction is a reminder that making films with children demands skills and considerations that do not typically pertain to adults. Unrestrained wriggling and loud expressions of emotions tend not to sit well within the controlled conditions of a sound film studio; whilst thrusting an immature child into the limelight might be psychologically damaging.

How did German studios manage their child actors? Which laws and regulations were in force to protect them? Who looked after their education? How were they chosen and what happened once the film was finished? 

Before 1925 there were no prohibitions in Germany on children working in film; after that date, however, regulations began to be enforced (Dienstag, 38). One of the restrictions introduced in 1925 barred the use of children under three unless there was a compelling scientific or artistic reason. Dr Meyer-Brodnitz, a doctor and industrial hygienist, listed two arguments behind this decision (Meyer-Brodnitz, 45). The first concerned the negative effects of ultra-violet studio lighting on a young child because their eyes lack protective pigment; and, he argued, a very young child would instinctively be drawn to look at a light source. The second reason concerned the potential psychological damage to a child (of any age) in being able to cope with the ‘general irritation and tensions that are necessarily connected with filming’. But Meyer-Brodnitz was also worried that older children might see something they should not, leaving them to ‘carry the psychological wounds received there as so-called complexes for the rest of his or her life’. Given that the majority of German films carried a Jugendverbot, a certification restricting them to 16 or over, this was a fairly common concern.

In 1928, a further overhaul of the laws pertaining to children determined as an area of risk: ‘a new type of child labour … which, although hitherto little noticed, is particularly harmful to children because of its nature… is film work’ (Berliner Tageblatt, 8 August 1928). Comparing regulations in America and other European countries, the article stated that ‘Germany is more lenient. Children between the ages of three and fourteen can be granted permission to film by the police authority, provided that the existing regulations (securing the studio against draughts, keeping to a certain number of hours, etc.) are complied with’. Considering some of the dangers of working in film studios, ‘guarding against draughts’ might seem a relatively harmless risk to cite, until one remembers that the article appeared at a time when films were often made in glass houses. Following the transition to sound film production, the almost hermetically sealed studios became warmer; and by 1955, film studios were described as ‘hot and dusty’ places where children might have to wait for hours until they were required (Zglinicki, 65). 

Some directors had their own methods for protecting the children they worked with. One article reported that Gerhard Lamprecht’s strategy was, as far as possible, to prevent the children in his films from watching the productions they had acted in (Hör Zu, 24-25). Lamprecht hoped that this way they might maintain their innocence and not be tempted to brag about their roles. Two of the children who worked in Lamprecht’s 1954 film Der Engel mit dem Flammenschwert/The Angel with the flaming Sword allegedly complained to him about this ban, but as the film was certified for over 16 anyway, there was little more they could say!

Films with child actors were popular and accounts frequently appeared in the German-language press, with a particular fascination about those who achieved both fame and wealth, such as Shirley Temple and Jackie Coogan. Many European publications typically looked across the Atlantic to find out how Hollywood studios managed their child actors; and Mein Film reported that Hollywood’s 2,500 or so child actors were educated in schools run within the major film studios, with teachers provided by the state of California (Mein Film, Nr. 263, 1931). 

Filmkinder und Schule, Die schöne Frau, Nr. 9, 1930

Whether the number of children in German film studios was significantly lower, or whether Germans expected the children to catch up quickly on any educational gaps, formal school arrangements do not appear to have been made in German film studios during this period. Nevertheless, special arrangements for child actors were recorded for the filming of Träumerei/Reverie (1944, Braun) (BArch R 109-II/47), with Ufa appointing Paula Knüpfer as assistant director for children. Two other examples of Knüpfer’s involvement include Das grosse Spiel/The big game (1941) and Der dunkle Tag/The dark day (1942) (BArch R 109-I/2360); for each film Knüpfer was instructed to support a named child during auditions and filming without any reference to teaching; her pay was RM250 per film. 

Over the summer of 1944, correspondence between an Ufa production manager, Erich Holder and Dr Bauer at the Reichsfilmkammer (RKF, the National Socialist body responsible for overseeing the film industry), reveals the steps taken in preparation for the film Wie sagen wir es unseren Kindern?/How should we tell our children? (BArch R 109-II/52).  Because planned filming dates meant that the children would miss two months of school, Ufa asked the RFK for support in persuading reluctant parents and pedagogues who were resisting the children’s participation. One father in particular was ‘making difficulties … but the boy has a very special talent which is unique in itself and he is also particularly suitable in appearance for the role of Wölfchen’ (Ufa letter dated 12 July 1944). The RFK intervened, writing to the boy’s father: ‘After the most careful examination, the choice of the boy for the role of Wölfchen fell on your boy, who was particularly well liked in the Ministry and should absolutely take the role’ (15 July 1944). 

Elsewhere responses indicate that a degree of absence from school would be tolerated, either based on the child’s performance to date or the stability of the parental home; however one child was reported as ‘sitzengeblieben’ i.e. repeating the school year. Given the prevailing political circumstances at this late stage of the war, however, one might question the extent to which parents and teachers felt obliged to comply with the RFK.

Interviewed by Das Magazin in 1956, Hans Winter, who acted in a DEFA production, Alarm im Zirkus/Panic in the Circus (Klein, 1953), said: ‘During the filming we were accommodated in a home in Königsheide. We had school lessons there, but for me it was not enough to catch up in school later on and take my final exams’ (64). In this particular case, the former child actor had wanted to return to the film industry and regretted this hiatus in his education which left him without the qualifications to train as a stage painter. Although he admitted that filming had been fun and he enjoyed ‘the little bit of a buzz with the other kids’, something of that experience remained ineffable, forever out of reach.

The percentage of child actors who are given a major role has always been miniscule. More commonly, when children were needed for a film, they may simply have been used as extras, working at most a day or two a year. Planning documentation from the 1944 film Vier Treppen Rechts/Four Steps Right, shows that 15 children were needed to appear in two scenes described as ‘Hilde’s Kindergarten’ and ‘Roof terrace’. For their work they were each to be paid a day rate of RM10, hardly a fortune (BArch R 109-II/52, 0173): 

Children were also used for dubbing work: in addition to her own acting roles, Carmen Lahrmann became the German voice for Shirley Temple. 

When a director’s choice falls on Fritz, it is not because Fritz seems the most talented of many or has a pretty face, but because he is the boy the screenplay imagines

Das Magazin, 63

How were children chosen and what became of them once they outgrew their child stardom? Just as Hollywood became a metonym for the production of cinema, so the name of Shirley Temple became synonymous with child stardom. Producers needed child actors and parents dreamed of fame and wealth; or simply another income: ‘Economic hardship has given rise to the idea among some parents …to regard the child as an economic livelihood and to consider his or her artistic gifts and talents as the financial basis of the family’, wrote Mein Film in 1937 (Nr. 594: 14).  In the post war period, the demand for children in films grew significantly with ‘almost every post-war German film having a child’s role’ (Zglinicki, 65). At the same time, cautionary voices were raised against the unseemly rush to stardom which many claimed was harming the children themselves (Zglinicki; Das Magazin).

The most suitable age for film work is between their sixth and twelfth year. After fourteen, their career as a ‘film child’ comes to an irrevocable end, regardless of how world-famous and popular they may have been.

Das Kino-Journal, October 1931

Occasionally, child stars went on to have lasting careers in the film industry; just as frequently, however, the child, having played the required role, is thrust back into anonymity, or chooses to retire from the scene. Traudl Stark, born in Vienna in 1930, was sometimes referred to as the ‘Shirley Temple of Austria’. Her intensive film career lasted six years for eleven films made between 1934 and 1940, during which she (and her parents) were often feted. See image below (source: Bei Prinzessin Sissy am Rosemhügel, Mein Film, Nr. 640, 1938).

Traudl Stark in Prinzessin Sissy

Stark’s career ended abruptly and she had no further involvement in the film industry; at 18 she married and moved to America. 

A handful of German child actors remained in the industry, achieving success as adults, among them two of the children from Lamprecht’s Emil: Hans Richter and Inge Landgut, both of whom had long film careers. Whether some of the others would have continued with their acting careers or not, will remain forever unknown: Hans Schaufuß, Hans Löhr and Rolf Wenkhaus all died during the early stages of the war, a far cry from the joy of Emil.  


Anon., Die Bekämpfung der Kinderarbeit, Berliner Tageblatt, 8 August 1928 (6).

Anon., In der Schule der Filmkinder, Das Kino-Journal, 17 October 1931, (5-6).

Anon., Sternchen ohne Allüren, Die Weltpresse, 17 Januar 1949 (6).

Anon., Deutschlands jüngster Filmstar, Heidelberger Anzeiger, 4 September 1936, Nr. 207 (6).

Anon., Mit zehn berühmt – und dann? Hör Zu, 1955, Nr. 3, (24-25).

Anon., Kongress der Kleinen, Kinematograph, Nr. 280, 3 December 1931.

Anon., Filmkarriere für aufgeweckte Kinder, Mein Film, Nr. 594, 1937. 

Anon., Was unsere Filmkinder sich zu Weihnachten wünschen, Scherl’s Magazin, 1930 (1262-1267).

Anon., Filmkinder kommen aus der Mode, Wiener Kurier, 17 March 1950.

BArch R 109-II/47, ‘Besetztungsliste: Träumerei.’

BArch R 109-II/52, ‘Komparserie zu Vier Treppen Rechts.’ 

BArch R 109-I/2360, ‘Angebotsschreiben Paula Knüpfer.’

Paul Dienstag, Der Arbeitsvertrag des Filmschauspielers und Filmregisseurs, Schriften des Instituts für Arbeitsrecht an der Universität Leipzig. Hft. 20. 1929.

Georg Herzberg, Emil und die Detektive, Film-Kurier, Nr. 283, 3 December 1931.

H. H., Lichtbild-Bühne, Nr. 289, 3 December 1931.

Sidney Johnson, Kinder filmen, Mein Film, 1932, Nr. 363, (9-10).

Dr Meyer-Brodnitz, Die Filmkinder im Arbeitsschutzgesetz. Arbeiterwohlfahrt, Volume 5, Issue 2, 15 January 1930 (44-46).  1930-02.pdf ( [accessed 11 February 2022]

Gertrud Müller, Filmkinder und Schule, Die schöne Frau, Nr. 9, 1930, (14,16).

Jane Catherine O’Connor, The cultural significance of the child star, thesis, 2006.

Jens Rübner, Filmkind unter der UfA-Raute, 2021.

Harry P. Schwittey, Kinderaugen sehen dich an…, Mein Film, Nr. 263, 1931 (10-11). 

Miriam Sello-Christian, Soll mein Kind zum Film? Das Magazin, March 1956, Volume 3 (62-65).

Gertrud Wiethake-Müller, Filmkinder, Das interessante Blatt, 17 April 1930, Nr. 10, (10).

Il ministro Goebbels, L’Italiano (Gazetta de Popolo delli Sera) 3 January 1940 In: BArch R 109-I/5008 (0830), 3 January 1940.

Zglinicki, F.von und Andrés, E. P. Wie komme ich zum Film? Film-Berufsführer, 1955 (65-68).

British film studios and the 1947 fuel crisis

2022 marks the 75th anniversary of the fuel crisis that partially paralysed Britain at the start of 1947. Our researcher Richard Farmer explores the impact that the crisis, and the exceptionally harsh winter that accompanied it, had on British film studios.

1947 proved to be a particularly challenging year for Britain, a country still recovering from the Second World War. Widespread shortages of consumer goods persisted and rationing continued; essential infrastructure that had been run into the ground during the war had yet to be replaced. The Labour government of Clement Attlee struggled to rebuild a damaged country and transition to a peacetime economy whilst introducing the welfare services that it had promised voters in the 1945 election. The ‘sunlit uplands’ promised by Winston Churchill for the post-war period were nowhere to be seen. This was as true meteorologically as it was metaphorically, at least in the early part of 1947 when Britain was subjected to ‘an ordeal by weather unequalled in the long time during which systematic meteorological records have been kept’ (Robertson: 8). Swathes of the country were covered in snow from late January until mid-March, whilst for large areas temperatures did not climb above freezing for much of February, causing domestic plumbing pipes to freeze. ‘Even the basic elements of civilisation are denied us,’ moaned James Lees-Milne upon finding that he couldn’t run himself a bath (Kynaston: 190). The weather made it extremely difficult to move coal from mine to power station by rail or sea, resulting in power cuts – at one point, meetings of the Central Electricity Board had to be lit by candles (Farmer: 27). Temporary factory closures brought about a short-term spike in unemployment. 

The Ghosts of Berkeley Square (1947)

Film studios were, of course, not exempt from these problems. At ABPC’s Elstree facility, sub-zero temperatures meant that it was too cold to lay bricks, halting the process of post-war reconstruction for six weeks, whilst weather-related transport issues made it even more difficult to get construction materials, already in scarce supply, to site (Baker: iv). At the British National studios, also in Elstree, certain shots for The Ghosts of Berkeley Square had to be postponed because the carriage required for them was covered by a snowdrift out on the lot. When the carriage was eventually reclaimed, it barely survived long enough for the shots to be taken – having moved out of camera range for what would prove to be the last time ‘it lurched and collapsed. One axle had rotted through’ (Wallace 1947a: 17). However, it’s an ill winter wind that blows nobody any good, and production company Cineguild, looking upon the snow as ‘a dispensation of Providence’, travelled to Staffordshire to shoot winter locations for Blanche Fury (Wardour: 4). Back at Pinewood, where Cineguild shot interiors for the film, workers took advantage of icy conditions to go skating in the studio grounds (Pinewood Merry-go-Round, Dec: 16).

Blanche Fury (1948)

The problems caused by the weather paled into insignificance when compared to those resulting from a loss of power. Like many industries, by the late-1940s the British film production sector had for decades been reliant on electricity, and any interruption to a constant supply was extremely disruptive: ‘You cannot light a set, run a projector, turn over a sound camera, operate a valve amplifier or develop a strip of film on anything but electricity – colloquially known as “juice”’ (Huntley: 4). With the transport of coal compromised by the weather, and with stockpiles having been run down during the war, many coal-fired British power stations were unable to produce as much electricity as was needed by industry and domestic consumers, prompting a crisis which Kinematograph Weekly (13 Feb: 4), slightly hysterically, claimed made ‘the interference of the Luftwaffe in 1940 seem trivial by comparison’. 

Although production facilities such as Pinewood, Denham and Shepperton generated their own electricity using fuel oil-powered engines, having decided that this would be a cheaper and more manageable source of current, nine British studios drew power from the national grid and so were at the mercy of generators that they had no direct means of controlling. Should electricity supply fail, production stopped. This was something that the producers of Dancing With Crime found to their cost, when heavy snow persuaded them to switch production from an exterior set at Twickenham to a duplicate built on the soundstage at Southall. The unit arrived to find the latter studio without power:

Artists groped around in the gloom to complete their make-up. Then plasterers and technicians gathered in the carpentry shop and warmed frozen feet and hands round a wood-shavings fire. Lights came on just when it was decided to break for a late lunch.

Some filming did eventually prove possible, but the unit lost ‘nearly a whole day’ (KW, 6 Feb: 17). Other studios drawing power from the grid were similarly affected: at Welwyn, the Boulting Brothers were forced to delay starting Brighton Rock, whilst at Islington production of When the Bough Breaks had to be suspended. In some studios, shortages of current put editing tables and sound recording gear out of action, whilst drops in electrical frequency made it difficult for post-syncing equipment to function normally (P. G. B: 14).  As the government introduced schemes to regulate fuel consumption, diverting it away from non-essential uses, filmmakers were informed that shooting at night would be temporarily prohibited as being ‘against the national interest’ (KW, 13 Feb: 3).

Dancing with Crime (1947)

With no power, there was little work to do, and 200 employees at Islington (Hull Daily Mail, 8 Feb: 1) and 700 at Shepherd’s Bush (Sunday Dispatch, 9 Feb: 1) were temporarily laid-off. Studios scrambled to find alternative sources of power. At the Nettlefold studios in Walton-on-Thames, manager W. N. Norris, faced with the prospect of a complete shut-down, secured a large petrol-driven generator from a fairground company. When production resumed at Islington, the rented circus generator provided only enough power for the stages, leaving offices and other non-essential spaces in the dark (Craven: 3). The cost of hiring such equipment could be as much as £50 a day, but this paled in comparison to the £1,000 per day that one trade paper claimed to be the cost of holding up production (KW, 13 Feb: 3).  

The mobile generators were petrol- or diesel-powered – and so were similar to the permanent plant installed at studios such as Pinewood or Denham, which used fuel oil to keep operational throughout the crisis – so circumvented the problems then affecting electricity generation in London and the south-east of England. Gaumont-British’s newsreel for 17 February 1947 concluded a story on the fuel crisis by noting that ‘emergency [generating] plant’ had been acquired that would allow the company to continue its work. This decision, it was stressed, was a public-spirited gesture that had been made so that the production of G.-B. newsreels would not prove to be an additional drain on the national grid. The sum spent on the plant – said to be ‘some thousands’ – indicates that it was purchased rather than hired, suggesting that management saw this as an investment against the possibility of inconsistent electricity supplies for some time to come. 

Mobile generators

The fuel crisis also affected the British film industry more generally. Publication of trade papers such as Kinematograph Weekly was suspended for two weeks in February in an attempt to save coal, prompting some critics to angrily claim that the government was seeking to muzzle the press. More significantly, fuel shortages reduced the amount of film that could be manufactured and processed. Raw-stock companies such as Eastman-Kodak and Ilford received only two-thirds of their normal fuel allocation, dramatically reducing their output (Variety, 26 Feb: 25). This necessitated severe economies in the use of stock, and savings were made by temporarily halting the production of prints for sales overseas, a decision that cannot have been taken lightly given the British economy’s desperate need for export earnings (P. G. B: 14). Processing labs suffered from power cuts, too, and Denham Labs, which drew current from the grid, experienced ‘load shedding’ operations that lasted as long as seven hours (ibid.) and which disrupted processing until a way was found to take power from the neighbouring studio’s generators (KW, 6 March: 6). Producers used to viewing rushes on a daily basis found that they could now only be printed twice a week, forcing some directors to ‘shoot blind’ and necessitating additional money being spent on retakes (ibid.).

The need to find savings of film stock prompted talk – ultimately groundless – of ‘eliminating newsreels’ for the duration of the crisis, and concerns were also voiced about whether enough prints could be struck to supply Britain’s approximately 4,500 cinemas. That didn’t turn out to be a problem, although ensuring that prints reached cinemas could be challenging, as in Bury St Edmunds where some GFD films had to be delivered by sledge (KW, 6 March: 6). Exhibitors had to deal with a downturn in ticket sales prompted by the awful weather, a prohibition on matinee performances and restricted opening hours. Those patrons who did turn up were often cold and frustrated: there was little coal to heat the auditorium – ‘even my goosepimples had goosepimples’ noted one picturegoer (Sunday Dispatch, 2 March: 6) – whilst power cuts could arrive without notice part-way through a screening (KW, 6 Feb: 44). External neon and floodlights were switched off, plunging the countries cinemas back into the enforced gloom of the blackout.

Neither the fuel crisis nor the harsh weather lasted indefinitely. When the thaw eventually came in mid-March, melting snow caused widespread flooding – including at Elstree, where groundworks at the ABPC site were inundated, causing further delays (Baker: iv). Whilst the coming of spring was welcomed by many, there were those who found themselves inconvenienced by the timing of its arrival: Cineguild was caught unprepared, having not been able to complete its winter exteriors, and was left ‘searching grimly for a location in which there are no leaves on the trees and no flowers on the ground’ (Wallace, 1947b: 12). By May, Broken Journey went into production at Shepherd’s Bush using mounds of artificial snow that was more biddable and less likely to melt under the harsh glare of the studio’s electric lights (KW, 8 May: 20). That these lights were up and running again demonstrates that the power situation in the studios had returned to something approaching normality.  The mobile generators acquired so quickly and at such cost as stop-gap sources of electricity could be put to use for location shooting.

Broken Journey (1948)


KW Kinematograph Weekly. All uncredited newspaper articles 1947. 

P. G. B., ‘Studio news and views’, Kinematograph Weekly, 13 February 1947: 14-5. 

P. G. Baker, ‘Quarterly studio survey’, Kinematograph Weekly – British studio section supplement, 3 April 1947: iv-v, x, xxiii.

Edgar Craven, ‘Shows and showfolk’, Yorkshire Evening Post, 22 February 1947: 3

Richard Farmer, ‘All Work and No Play: British Leisure Culture and the 1947 Fuel Crisis’, Journal of Contemporary History, 27:1 (2013): 22-43.

John Huntley, ‘Juice! The motive power of the industry’, Film Industry, August 1947: 4-5, 22.

David Kynaston, Austerity Britain, 1945-51 (London: Bloomsbury, 2007).

Alex J. Robertson, The Bleak Midwinter, 1947 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1987).

Leonard Wallace (1947a), ‘In British studios’, Kinematograph Weekly, 24 April 1947: 17-8.

Leonard Wallace (1947b), ‘Studio news and views’, Kinematograph Weekly, 1 May 1947: 12-3.

Wardour, ‘Screen topics’, Leicester Evening Mail, 10 February 1947: 4. 

A State of ‘Agreeable Disorder’: Temporary Film Studios in Post-war Italy

By Catherine O’Rawe

In January 1946 the Italian film magazine Star, in a response to a reader’s request for information on how to contact the country’s major studio, Cinecittà, advised him: 

It’s pointless to address your letter to Cinecittà. The celluloid metropolis has temporarily concluded its proud career with an act of true public usefulness: hosting thousands of refugees. […] Today’s Italian films are being shot in the strangest of places: cellars, sacristies, attics (Anon. 1946a: 6).

As the anonymous author noted, Cinecittà had been requisitioned by the Allied forces since 1944; it would not resume production until late 1947, and its hosting of refugees and prisoners of war has been documented by Steimatsky (2009 and 2020). Other studios such as Tirrenia in Tuscany, and Titanus-Farnesina in Rome were also under Allied control; Titanus would resume production in mid-1946, Tirrenia not until 1949 (see Anon. 1946b).

Much has been written about the globally influential movement of post-war Italian neorealism as an ideological rejection of the space of the film studio, in favour of a more authentic engagement with space and place, as part of Italy’s post-fascist ‘rebirth’. However, the reality is more complex: firstly, some of the films considered as canonically neorealist were shot partly in studios, such as Vittorio De Sica’s Sciuscià/Shoeshine(1946) and Ladri di biciclette/Bicycle Thieves (1948), both filmed at Safa-Palatino studios. Secondly, it was contingency that forced this opening up to location shooting, which was also happening in other countries, as reported in Richard Farmer’s blog post on Britain. While there was a greater incorporation of location shooting, favoured of course by Italy’s mild climate, Italian producers and directors resorted to a variety of expedients for shooting interior scenes in this period, creating what film critic Italo Dragosei referred to in November 1945 as conditions of ‘grazioso disordine’ (Dragosei 1945). Dragosei went on to compare the somewhat chaotic contemporary production panorama to Italy’s wartime black market economy, when ‘you would go into a fabric shop and find soles for shoes, the barber was selling cigarettes, the tobacco shop sold shoes, and the milkman fruit.’ This reminder of the precarious material conditions in which Italy found itself at the end of the war serves to frame the following brief discussion of some of the ways in which productions used or repurposed existing spaces for shooting. It is backed up by former production director Clemente Fracassi, active in the period, who remembers a type of guerrilla filming: ‘since we were going round shooting you had to strike agreements to shoot in particular places, get permits, set up an electric current, almost like thieves, since the Allies were using the electricity to power hospitals and schools, and there were no generators, and hardly any electric light in most cities’ (in Assessorato alla Cultura del Comune di Roma 1979: 166).

Probably the most celebrated Italian film of the period, Rossellini’s Roma città aperta/Rome Open City, was shot in January 1945, when Rome had been liberated by the Allies but while the war was ongoing. While the film is widely known for its use of the working-class areas of Rome, most of the interiors were shot in a makeshift studio run by veteran producer Liborio Capitani. Capitani’s ‘studio’, on Via degli Avignonesi in the centre of Rome, was in reality a basement hall which has been variously described as a former horse or dog-racing track, or as a betting shop (see Forgacs 2000). 

Director Roberto Rossellini with screenwriter Sergio Amidei in Capitani studio during shooting of Rome Open City.

Many myths have grown up around the shooting of Rossellini’s film, but it is clear from contemporaneous accounts that it was a challenging process, due partly to the need to shoot at night because of electricity shortages. The space, like most buildings in Rome in that winter with little electricity and heating available, was also freezing cold. Vito Annicchiarico, the child actor who played the son of Anna Magnani in the film recalls the studio’s ‘downtrodden air’ (in Ramogida 2016: 33), and notes that it was located next to a brothel frequented by Allied soldiers, which became part of the film’s ribald legend. Dragosei, on his visit to the studio, noted that the door was opened by a maid, and that the empty space contained only a couple of spotlights to indicate that it was being used for film shoots.

A glimpse of the austere shooting space during filming of Rome Open City.

Cinematographer Aldo Tonti, although he did not work on Rossellini’s film, discussed it in his memoir, noting how the low voltage allowed by electricity companies was inadequate for film production, and Italians would respond by jamming the meters manually (Tonti 1964: 103). Tonti also remembered how the ACI studios in Rome had only two soundstages at that time, both of which were being used for shooting. There was not enough electricity for both films, so the productions had to take turns to shoot with look-outs announcing when the other had finished! (ibid.).

Makeshift and run-down as it was, Capitani was at least recorded as a film studio: in a 1948 MGM survey of film production facilities in Italy, it is listed in the lowest class of studio, as having no soundproofing and ‘some lighting equipment’. Many of the other spaces used for shooting at this time could not be described as studios at all; Dragosei (1945) notes the proliferation of ‘primitive and improvised studios, in the same vein as everything else on the Italian peninsula’. Among these we can count the gym in Bari in southern Italy converted into a sound stage for the film L’amante del male/The Lover of Evil (Bianchi Montero, 1946), or in Turin, a gym that was repurposed by director Alberto Lattuada for his noir neorealist classic Il bandito/The Bandit in the same year. Aldo Tonti, the director of photography on Lattuada’s film, complained (1964: 113) about the lack of soundproofing in the gym, with noises constantly coming in from the street, while it was also impossible to keep the daylight out. 

Problems were also caused in many of these buildings by lack of adequate space, not least for the many electrical cables required. A correspondent from the magazine Film d’oggi visited the shoot of the Resistance film Il sole sorge ancora/Outcry, being directed by Aldo Vergano in December 1945; shooting was taking place in a real Milanese brothel, transformed by production director Giacinto Solito into a studio, and the journalist immediately noted the cables snaking dangerously up and down the stairs ‘like snakes’ and the blinding glare of lights everywhere in the small space (Anon. 1945). Shooting was also disrupted during the journalist’s visit, comically, by the arrival of real patrons of the brothel, something that is apocryphally related about Rome Open City as well.

Rogue cables also proved problematic on the set of the comedy Che distinta famiglia!/What a Distinguished Family, shot in August 1945 in the former MGM dubbing studio in Rome. It seems that this small studio, formerly used by MGM only for post-synchronization work, was now being used for shooting, due to the absence of viable alternatives. The journalist visiting the set for Film d’oggi reports that the actors gather around the ‘improvised bar’ upstairs (no staff canteen here!), and notes that while the actors consume only cappuccino and pastries, they look on enviously as a visiting producer enjoys savoury supplì in front of them (Guerrini 1945a). Meanwhile downstairs, director of photography Anchise Brizzi trips over a cable and falls to the floor, cursing the lack of space.

Actors and director play rock, paper, scissors during a break in shooting in the cramped space of the former MGM dubbing studio (Film d’oggi, August 1945, p. 5).

Resourcefulness, like the black market, was everywhere: in May 1946, Giorgio Ferroni’s Pian delle Stelle, funded by the Italian National Partisans’ Association, managed to construct two sound stages in the town of Belluno in the Dolomites, complete with soundproofing and electric current (La cinematografia italiana, 11-18 May 1946, p. 12). While some of these expedients are attributed to the need for realism, others are admitted to be due to the need for cost-cutting: on his visit to the set of the film Veglia nella notte/Vigil in the Night, being shot in December 1945 in the old army barracks on Via Asiago in Rome, film journalist Tito Guerrini is scathing about the corners being cut in order to film on a tiny budget of 10 million lire, and calls the impromptu studio ‘a hut’ (Guerrini 1945b). It seems that filming was happening everywhere in this chaotic period: rather than build nightclub sets, it was presumably easier to go and film there, as was the case with Rossellini’s Paisà/Paisan (1946), and Ferroni’s Tombolo, paradiso nero/Tombolo (1947). Castles were employed (the Castello degli Odescalchi used in Aquila nera/The Black Eagle (Freda, 1946), or authentic artists’ studios on Via Margutta in Rome (Le modelle di via Margutta/The Models of Via Margutta, Scotese, 1945). 

Although my focus has been here on the immediate post-war period, even before the liberation of Rome, shooting was happening in ad hoc spaces, following the occupation of Cinecittà by the Germans in September 1943. In March 1944, director Vittorio De Sica asked by the Vatican to make the religious drama La porta del cielo/The Gates of Heaven. He agreed, mainly as a way to avoid being sent to Venice where filmmaking was taking place in the Fascist Republic. The film was thus shot during the German occupation of Rome, partly in the cellars of the church of San Bellarmino in the upmarket Parioli district, and partly in the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls. The long-drawn-out shoot, which included hundreds of extras, caused many problems, and the lack of proper facilities for cast and crew was a glaring one. De Sica recalled how he was perched on a crane trying to get a shot, all the time unaware that extras were relieving themselves in the confessionals! (De Sica 2004: 88).

Outside of Rome, a fascinating centre of production in the immediate post-war period was Naples, which saw the emergence of what became known as the ‘filone napoletano’ or Neapolitan genre. These low-budget films in a melodramatic and sentimental vein, specifically targeted at southern audiences, by the 1950s were being shot in Roman studios. However, as Gaudiosi (2019: 37) argues about the immediate post-war period in Naples: ‘many films had budgets of round about the derisory amount of 40 million lire, and tended to avoid studios, using very small crews’. Very little is known about these localised filming experiences, but it is to be hoped that information may yet emerge from the Italian archives, which would help to complicate and enrich the critical picture of post-war Italian film; the opposition between location shooting and studio shooting is not really tenable in the immediate post-war period, which is instead, as we have seen, marked by a strong tendency towards hybrid and precarious filming practices.


Anon. (1945). ‘Dappertutto Il sole sorge ancora. Ma non in certe case di Via S. Pietro all’Orto’, in Film d’oggi, 15 December, p. 4.

Anon. (1946a). ‘Servizio Lampo’, in Star, 12 January, p. 6.

Anon. (1946b). ‘La situazione degli stabilimenti di Cinecittà e Tirrenia’, in La cinematografia illustrata, 11-18 May, p. 5.

Assessorato alla Cultura del Comune di Roma (ed.) (1979). La città del cinema. Produzione e lavoro nel cinema italiano 1930/70. Rome: Napoleone. 

De Sica, Vittorio (2004). La porta del cielo. Memorie 1901-1952. Cava de’ Tirreni: Avagliano.

Dragosei, Italo (1945). ‘Cinema senza Cinecittà’, in Star, 17 November, p. 2.

Gaudiosi, Massimiliano (2019). ‘Cantate con noi: canzoni, pubblico e censura nel filone napoletano’, in L’Avventura, 1, 35-48.

Guerrini, Tito (1945a). ‘A Roma si gira negli stabilimenti della “Metro”’, in Film d’oggi, 4 August, p. 5.

Guerrini, Tito (1945b). ‘Si gira Veglia nella notte fra litigi e disavventure’, in Film d’oggi, 8 December, p. 9.

Ramogida, Simonetta (2016). Roma città aperta. Vito Annicchiarico il piccolo Marcello racconta il set con Anna Magnani Aldo Fabrizi Roberto Rossellini. Rome: Gangemi.

Steimatksy, Noa (2009). ‘The Cinecittà Refugee Camp, 1944-1950′, in October, 128, 22-50.

Steimatksy, Noa (2020). ‘Backlots of the World War. Cinecittà 1942-50′, in In the Studio: Visual Creation and its Material Environments, ed. Brian Jacobson. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, pp. 122-142.

Tonti, Aldo (1964). Odore di cinema. Florence: Vallecchi.

Studios in the Festive Season

As the nights draw in and 2021 approaches retirement, this STUDIOTEC bumper blog looks at how the festive season was acknowledged by film studios in Germany, France, Italy and Britain.

In Germany Seasons’ Greetings regularly appeared in film magazines listing a studio’s biggest films.   Here are two examples from 1930, illustrating the significance of Munich’s Emelka and Berlin’s Ufa in these New Year and Christmas greetings:

Christmas and New Year was a time to release new films, a tactic that continues to this day. In 1931, Karl Lamac’s Die Fledermaus premiered on Christmas Day across 36 German cities, as well as in Vienna and Copenhagen. Quite an undertaking, suggesting cinema as a popular draw for family outings after the Christmas Eve celebrations. 

Promoting Christmas with the stars has long been a diet for film fans around the world, a peek into their homes affording an opportunity for studios to promote the glamour of their major stars. An article entitled ‘Christmas in Hollywood’ – actually an account of Ernst Lubitsch’ career difficulties in America – includes this illustration of Ufa’s Lilian Harvey and Willy Fritsch, complete with a suitably large tree, Santa Claus and animals, perhaps two of which may be destined for the table…!

The same edition of the magazine ran an article on how to shoot winter scenes without snow. Who needs real snow anyway, when it can be made in the film studio, that workshop of artifice and illusion? Nikolaus Sandor’s 1929 patent application (DE 488567) claimed to create ‘snow landscapes’ and a 1950 patent from Grünzweig & Hartmann (DE 1611199) listed ‘artificial snow for film, stage and shop windows’. Striving to find the ideal form for winter decorations, Max C. Baumann (DE 643566, 1932), boasted the superiority of his invention over existing compounds which he cited as using cotton wool, ground gypsum, glass, mica, magnesia, starch and … asbestos. Wait a minute – did he really say asbestos?! 

The cinema side of film business was clearly hard at work on Christmas Day, but what about activity in the studios? A board memo from 1937 noted that operations at Babelsberg and Tempelhof would close at 13:00 on both 24 and 31 December and remain closed on 2 January 1938 (BArch R 109-I/1032a). Meeting records indicate that Ufa’s board often met on Christmas Eve, and were already back around the table by the 27th – clearly there was no time for slacking! Christmas Eve being more significant in Germany than Christmas Day, one might assume that board discussions were concluded promptly in order to get home in time for the night’s celebrations to begin – or perhaps for a quick Glühwein in the Babelsberg bar? 

In 1937 an allowance of RM 2,000 was granted for Christmas presents for the 700 children of workers at Babelsberg and Tempelhof, or a little under RM3 per child. 

Gifts which Santa duly handed out!

Other indications of how employees were treated show that Christmas bonuses (at least from 1934) were given to lower paid staff, carefully calibrated to take into account marital status and number of children. This was the arrangement for 1934:

Single, with a monthly income of RM150 or lessRM20
Single, with a monthly income between RM150 and RM225RM30
Married with 1 child or married with no children with a monthly income of RM250 or less RM45
Married with 2 children with a monthly income of RM300 or lessRM60
Married with 3 children with a monthly income of RM300 or lessRM75

(BArch R 109-I/2420) 

Straining to turn the hands, who better to herald in the New Year than Emil Jannings, ready to welcome 1930, the year our STUDIOTEC project begins?

From the beginning of the 1930s, Christmas was an important feature of the French industry calendar. Cinema frontages were lavishly decorated, seasonal programmes announced, and the cinema press was full of signed photographs of stars sending festive wishes to their public. The Christmas season was also a moment for studios and production houses to bring employees and their families together around the traditional Christmas tree. The biggest companies, like Pathé and Gaumont, would hold their events sometimes away from the studio workplace, usually in cinema halls belonging to their group. One such event for ‘children of employees and workers of the Joinville and Francoeur studio’ was held at the Lyon Pathé cinema in Paris on the 19th December 1937. After a show featuring puppets, clowns, and singers, the children were treated to a screening of colour cartoons and received individual gifts. The singing and dancing that took place around the tree in the foyer was of course captured for posterity by the cameras of Pathé-Journal

During wartime, such events had a more social purpose, offering some comfort to children whose fathers were either mobilised or at the front. From as early as December 1939, dedicated aid committees for mobilised soldiers, their wives and families (the ‘Comité central d’aide aux mobilisés du cinéma’ and the ‘Comité d’aide aux femmes de combattants’ chaired by the actress Françoise Rosay), arranged for a Christmas tree to be displayed in the premises of the magazine Cinémonde. But after the defeat of France in June 1940, Christmas events took on a more overtly political dimension. At Francoeur studios in December 1941, 700 children of absent fathers had to endure a speech by Georges Lamirand, the Vichy Minister for Youth. Under the patronage of the Pétainist weekly paper Jeunesse, and popular actors like Paulette Dubost, Pierre Larquey and Jean Tissier, the event served as a showcase for the promotion of Pétainist family values, and a public statement of the Vichy régime’s support for the children of French prisoners. Three days later, it was the turn of the Régent cinema in the affluent Neuilly district to host a children’s party, this time in the presence of Raoul Ploquin (the director of the Vichy organising committee for cinema, the COIC) and Dr Dietrich, head of the German propaganda services for the cinema. 

In spite of the economic and material hardships of the post-war years, the studios were quick to embrace their Christmas traditions again, and to host family events that were festive rather than political. On 6th January 1946, The Gaumont Buttes Chaumont studio organised a great party in the set of a film they were currently shooting (Jeux de femme by Maurice Cloche), and distributed cakes and other delicious treats to more than 100 children. But the wave of redundancies that hit the studios in 1947-48 put an end to this tradition, as film technicians lost their connection with a particular studio or production company.

In Italy, the jewel in the cinema production crown, Cinecittà, was often visited by dignitaries, and a 1953 clip from the Istituto Luce shows Undersecretary of State Teodoro Bubbio distributing Christmas gifts to children inside the studio. The newsreel emphasises how Cinecittà functioned as a kind of ambassador for both the Italian cinema industry and the for the state itself as generous benefactor. Popular Italian film stars were often recruited to appear at these philanthropic Christmas events, as if to remind ordinary people that the stars were not so distant after all: a 1952 Christmas dinner for the poor in Milan featured comic stars Walter Chiari and Nino Taranto providing festive cheer to the hundreds of children eating their free meal. 

The fact that the cinema is a space of festivity and joy is also shown by other charity Christmas events held in cinemas, such as a distribution of gifts to children of state employees in Rome’s Supercinema in 1953. 

Film magazines liked to do features on what the stars were doing for Christmas, picturing them at home with their Christmas trees and talking about the gifts they would like. And as a 1950 report in Film d’Oggi made clear, the Italian industry downed tools for several weeks in December, with stars departing for the Dolomites or Capri, and few remaining in Rome. However, the magazine ends the piece with a disapproving mention of rather rotund noted comic star Aldo Fabrizi, spotted out dancing at a nightclub at a Christmas party. Fabrizi, and the readers, are reminded that Christmas dinners can put on weight, so for the stars there is to be no respite from the pressures of the film industry, even during the festive season.

British studios also celebrated the festive season. In October 1946 Pinewood’s Music, Art and Drama group was preparing for their pantomime production of Cinderella, to be performed in one of the studio theatres’ smaller stages. Some interesting Pinewood employees were involved, including Geoff Woodward of the Art Department who wrote the script and lyrics, and a few years later worked as frame supervisor on several films produced using The Independent Frame, a time-saving production technique developed at Pinewood. The pantomime was produced by Adele Raymond, a casting director who had cast several of Powell and Pressburger’s films. Film publicist Lillana Wilkie played the Prince, in addition to assisting Valerie Turner in directing the pantomime, and production secretary Cynthia Frederick acted the part of Cinderella. The pantomime encouraged staff to try their hand at doing a job they were unfamiliar with: ‘Although many of the people taking part are “professionals”, it can truly be said that Cinderella is a show in the best tradition of amateur theatricals – as the distribution of parts and jobs has been so arranged that no professional takes part in his or her own professional field’. This would appear to be the case although the décor and costumes were by Bill Holmes, an assistant art director on In Which We Serve (1942), and draughtsman in the Art Department for Great Expectations (1946). The production was the most ambitious undertaking by the recently formed Group which had J. Arthur Rank as its President and D&P Studios’ managing director Spencer Reis as Vice-President. The Group had 100 members, or 10% of studio personnel, and as well as performances activities included gramophone recitals held fortnightly in one of the studio theatres when free and exhibitions of drawings in the picture gallery of the Club House. Members included well-known names such as musical director and composer Muir Mathieson; cinematographer Ronald Neame; art director Teddy Carrick, and film stars Deborah Kerr and Valerie Hobson.

The December 1946 issue of the Pinewood Merry-Go-Round studio magazine featured a Christmas cover credited to still photographer Charlie Trigg and others. 

The same issue reported that due to scheduling issues the ‘Pinewood Pantomeers’ had to put forward their performance by a week to the end of December. The shorter preparation time meant that ‘production had to be speeded up, rehearsal efforts doubled – and everybody put generally on their toes to get the show knocked into shape’. Even though the emphasis was primarily on fun and enjoyment, there was clearly more than a touch of professionalism evident when the ‘enthusiast’ ballet dancers were taken as part of their training for the pantomime see the Ballet Rambert perform Giselle. This outing clearly made an impact since in January 1947 during the ‘revelry’ of the Pinewood’s New Year’s Ball, ‘the Pinewood Ballet took the floor to give a repeat performance of their excerpt from the Pantomime, and earned unstinted applause’. The piano accompaniment was provided by Vivian Shaw of Cineguild’s Art Department, which he followed up with an impromptu selection during the band interval. The ballet was choreographed by sketch artist Ivor Beddoes. The pantomime’s audience consisted of members of the Music, Art and Drama Group, other Pinewood employees and their friends. Valerie Hobson and her mother attended, along with Spencer Reis and his wife. Illustrations were drawn of ‘Baron Nobubble’, played by Bill Holmes, and ‘The Talking Picture’ on a wall by Phil Shipway (who had been second unit assistant director on Great Expectations). 

A report in the Kinematograph Weekly noted how working in a film studio was incorporated into the production: ‘No one in the studio escaped the wit in Geoffrey Woodward’s script, which this art department man made to follow a film business background. First crack was about studio manager Hector Coward and Cinderella’s turkey was naïvely labelled: “Shot by Rank”’. Below is a ‘behind-the-curtain’ shot of the cast and the audience in the ‘stalls’.

We have recovered other traces of how British studios celebrated the festive season, including a children’s parties at Shepperton in 1952 and 1953 that featured London Films’ managing director Harold Boxall as Santa who ‘stepped from a huge pillar-box in the centre of the stage’ and handing out presents after the show. 

And of course the season was celebrated at Denham Studios, as seen here when Scruffy, canine star of British studios as reported in a previous blog, partied in style to wish everyone a happy time and all the best for 2022, as do we all from STUDIOTEC!


Anon. ‘L’arbre de Noël des enfants du personnel des studios Pathé-Natan’, Le Reporter du studio, 1er janvier 1938, p.1.

Anon. ‘L’arbre de Noël des enfants de mobilisés du cinéma’, La Cinématographie française, n°1105, 6 janvier 1940, p.6.

Anon. ‘Sous la présidence de Georges Lamirand, Chef de la jeunesse, 700 gosses de prisonniers ont participé au Noël de Jeunesse’, Jeunesse, n°52, 28 décembre 1941, p.1.

Anon. ‘Un arbre de Noël aux studios des Buttes Chaumont’, La Cinématographie française, n°1140, 19 janvier 1946, p.10.

Film-Magazin, 22 December 1929, p. 9; 29 December 1929, p. 3.   

Kinematograph, 25 December 1928, p. 3; 24 December 1930, p. 6; 31 December 1930, p. 15; 18 Dec ember 1931, p. 2. 

Kinematograph Weekly, 9 January 1947, p. 26; 1 January 1953, p. 24; 31 December 1953, p. 15.

Licht-Bild-Bühne, ‘Der Weihnachtsmann bei den Ufa-Kindern’, 22 December 1939, p. 3.

Gianni Padoan, ‘Cinecittà e dintorni’, in Film d’Oggi, 20 December 1950, p. 2.

Pinewood Merry-Go-Round, October 1946, p. 16; November 1946, p. 16; December 1946, p. 16; January 1947, pp. 2, 8-9.